Trent didn’t much like the Catholic boarding school in Victoria his parents sent him to as a high school student in the mid 1980s. His older brothers had been there before him, and didn’t mind it, but Trent was homesick, and hated the culture of violence at the school which saw boys severely punished for any and every misdemeanour.
‘As far as the priests go and all of that, they're bullies', Trent told the Commissioner. 'It wasn't uncommon for kids to get hit with cricket bats or bashed or hit, and that's what happened on a regular basis.’
When Trent was in Year 9, he attracted the attention of the dormitory assistant, Father Madigan. To get to the toilet, or go outside for a cigarette, the boys had to go past Madigan’s door. It was always open. Unlike other staff at the school, Madigan was friendly.
‘He would call me in and then we just started, you know, "Give me a smoke", and all of a sudden you think, "He's a real good bloke, smoking", and then you would just smoke and just talk like normal kids. You know, like, if you swore, you swore. It didn't matter sort of thing. And then he started offering me scotch and Coke, so I started drinking as well.’
This grooming process eventually led to Madigan sexually assaulting Trent, on at least 100 occasions over the next two years.
The abuse took its toll and in Year 10 Trent began self-harming. No one noticed. ‘It was really like they didn't care, mate. You've got to understand, when you were there it's like they don't even give a rats about you. You just did what they said.’
Trent got an apprenticeship at the end of Year 10 and didn’t go back to school. Troubled years followed. He broke off contact with his family and got into alcohol and drugs. He was homeless for a while. One day, shortly after a heroin overdose, he was walking down a street and he saw his father.
‘I haven't seen my parents for about three years, and my dad happened to be driving down the street and he saw me, and this was just after I had the episode with the heroin. He said to me, "Don't you reckon it's time you come home?" and I just said, "Yes, it probably is”. So I jumped in the car and went home.’
Trent still didn’t disclose the abuse to his parents until some later when he saw a television interview with a priest talking about child sex abuse. Trent was in a pub with his father at the time.
‘I had a few beers, and I've looked up and as I was taking my beer, I just said to Dad who was sitting beside me, I just said, "That happened to me”. He said, "What?" and I go, "That happened to me”.’
The principal at the college – later convicted for sex abuse offences himself – promised to help Trent. However this offer of support evaporated when Trent went against the principal’s advice and reported the abuse to police.
As a result of Trent’s complaint, police pursued a case against Madigan, although for only a few of the offences he’d committed. ‘The offences, there were so many of them, you had to try and pick individual ones that stood out more, and there was only like five that I could remember because the others were all so much the same. So they charged him with those five and he pleaded guilty to those.’
In the early 1990s, Madigan was convicted and sent to jail for two-and-a-half years.
Trent feels the sentence was far too light. His own sentence, he said, is life-long. In general, he believes penalties for paedophiles should be much more severe.
‘You know, like, they go off to their nice little prison, they're away from the general population, they get fed, and they get all good food, they get well looked after and all that sort of stuff, and we're out here.
'The stuff that we've been through, we would actually be better off going to where they go off to and having a little compound up there and getting fed every day and not have to worry about nothing, watching TV, playing a bit of tennis, going to the gym or having a swim. That would be a better life for us than what we have out here.’
Trent secured compensation of $67,000 from the Catholic order that runs the school, but he never received an apology. In the years since Madigan was released from jail, other former students from the school have come forward with complaints against him. Trent has provided ongoing support to some of those complainants.
Trent was married but his alcohol abuse brought the relationship to an end. ‘I used to kick her out of the house. I never hit her or anything like that, but I'd just drag her out of bed in whatever she was wearing and kick her out, and that happened for a long time.’
These days he drinks only in moderation and is resolved that he’ll protect his children from the impacts of the abuse that he is still dealing with.
‘I think about it every week … Sometimes it's just too hard, but you've got to – with the kids you've got to put up a facade and try and be positive, because I want to try and stop the cycle with me.
‘It's like they say, a ripple effect, but the thing that people don't know is it's not a ripple effect, it's a tsunami. It destroys lives. A ripple will just ripple. Tsunamis destroy, and that's what it does.’