Recently retired, Wal has begun to look back on his life and he’s not happy with what he sees.
‘I have lived my life afraid. Afraid to do anything. I put the whole of my life into my work in an effort to try and get it right, to do it well, to do something that mattered, that could be worthwhile. And the only word I can think of is “pathetic”. That’s what I thought … when I was looking back, I thought, “What a pathetic life”.’
Before the sexual abuse began, Wal was already a damaged and vulnerable child, having suffered years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. Seeking safety and meaning in his life, he joined a Christian church in Melbourne in the early 1960s when he was 14 years old.
David Jensen and Andrew McCall were children’s missioners who worked for the church.
‘Because of my home life, and my being a seriously troubled teenager, I was offered the opportunity to initially visit Jensen and McCall on weekends, and later to live with Jensen and McCall as if their son.’
Desperate to get away from his father, and believing that ‘it would be a much better life’, Wal accepted the offer and moved in with the two men.
A short while later they began pressuring him for sex. The first incident occurred one night after Jensen asked Wal to sit on his bed with him and watch TV.
‘I did not know what to do, I did not even know what was happening at the beginning, and I was a virgin in every way.’
McCall was sitting on his bed, in the same bedroom, while the incident took place.
‘Once Jensen had his sexual intercourse the next and immediate expectation was for me to go to McCall and allow him to have intercourse with me.
‘Once they had what they wanted I was left to myself to go off to my bed. I was in pain, quite terrified, not knowing what to do. I cleaned up and returned to my bed, did not sleep and cried pretty quietly.’
Sometime later, Wal went to his father and told him what Jensen and McCall had done. Wal’s father called him a liar and sent him back to live with the two men.
Wal stayed with them for the next three years and was repeatedly abused. Usually the abuse happened at the house, but there were also incidents at church camps. Also, on several occasions the men forced Wal to have sex with one of their friends.
The abuse ended when Wal moved out of the house in his late teens. About four or five years later he reported the abuse to his minister who said he would take it to the Church hierarchy.
As Wal understands, the minister did what he promised and was ‘warned off’ by senior church officials. ‘The only response I got back from him was “best to forget about it”.’ A few years later, Wal tried again, this time contacting the Church superintendent.
‘I must have gotten up quite a lot of courage to even front that because I was on my own. His response was to explain to me how something like this would hurt Jensen and McCall. How it would hurt their reputation … He also pushed that it was best left and not pursued further.’
The superintendent offered ‘absolutely nothing’ in the way of support and did not encourage Wal to go to police. But he never challenged the truth of what Wal said.
After that, Wal didn’t know what to do. More than a decade passed before he regathered his strength and decided to ‘fight back’. Within the space of a few years he reported the abuse to police and to the Church.
He found the police ‘extremely good. They were the best thing that happened to me right up to then’. They conducted a thorough investigation, built a case and recommended prosecution. Unfortunately, the Director of Public Prosecutions ruled that Jensen and McCall were ‘too old and infirm’ to prosecute, and the case was dropped.
Wal was shattered by the decision. Still, one positive thing did come out of the process: over the course of the investigation, Jensen and McCall eventually, and grudgingly, admitted their guilt. ‘They would say, “We didn’t do anything”. Then it was, “Well, we probably did but he seduced us”. And it gradually gets down to, “Well yes it did happen”.’
Armed with this information, Wal went to the Church and made another official complaint. At first he got nothing, but after writing many letters and enlisting the help of some friends and ministers he eventually got a response.
It wasn’t much. The Church made a small announcement in their newsletter, removed Jensen and McCall from the Honour Roll and offered Wal some counselling, which he refused.
One of the most offensive aspects of this response, Wal said, was that the Church spun the story to make it look like Jensen and McCall were sorry for what they’d done when in fact the two men weren’t sorry at all.
‘I was told by [a friend] off the record they didn’t have clue what they’d done, how damaging it was. They were absolutely convinced that they were the victims and I was the aggressor. It was all sort of turned around.’
Jensen and McCall are now dead. But the Church carries on, willfully blind, Wal believes, to the plight of those suffering the effects of child sexual abuse.
‘The lack of even a token institutional offer of compensation shows blatant disregard for the person, for the victim. The institution’s approach to the compensation process is woefully inadequate and is totally devoid of any understanding or empathy of a lifetime of heartache and pain and the price paid when abused and manipulated this way.’