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Walter James's story

‘My counsellor told me, yesterday, he said tell them anything you’re feeling. Anything you’ve got concerns about. Things you’ve got on your chest that you think need to be told. He said to me, don’t hold back. That’s what he said to me.’

Walter took his counsellor’s advice. He recognised it was important to share his feelings, he said. One of these is anger, about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child and the failure of police to act when he reported the abuse as an adult.

Walter was sexually abused as a young teenager in a small Victorian country town in the late 1960s. The perpetrator was Reverend Keith March, who officiated at the Anglican church in their parish and also taught religious studies at the high school Walter attended.

March was a good friend of Walter’s parents and often saw them socially. When Walter was 14, March suggested he might like to earn some pocket money mowing his lawn, as he was too busy to do it himself. Walter agreed. It was this casual work that gave March the opportunity to sexually abuse Walter.

Walter remembered about four incidents of abuse. The first one took place in the shed when Walter was putting the mower away. March followed Walter in and asked him to show him his underpants. When Walter pulled down his shorts, March knelt in front of him and rubbed his groin. He told Walter that it was important to have support for your testicles, and to make sure your testicles didn’t get too hot. Eventually he instructed Walter to pull his shorts up, and paid him for the mowing.

It was much the same with the incidents that followed. March would get Walter to expose his underpants, and would talk to him about his testicles and masturbation. He’d touch Walter’s genitals and get Walter to touch his. He told Walter that he had been sexually assaulted as a boy, and that he was homosexual. The abuse eventually came to an end when Walter’s family moved to another town.

At the time, Walter didn’t tell anyone what March had done. ‘The thing is, he told me that he was abused as a child … I think I felt sorry for him. You could tell he was a homosexual, and that people didn’t understand him. He wasn’t interested in women.’

Years later, he came to see what had happened very differently.

‘I didn’t seem to care about it back then. But now, I look at it now, for a person as an adult to do something like to that to a 14-year-old boy, to try and seduce him or ask him to take his clothes off or stroke his stomach and try and rub his balls and things like that – for an adult to try to do that to a 14-year-old boy, it’s – I don’t know the words. It’s more than disgusting, it’s evil. It’s weird.’

In the 1990s, Walter disclosed the abuse for the first time, to his then-wife. She wasn’t remotely interested, he said. Several years later, in response to a media campaign asking victims of child sex abuse to come forward, he decided to report March to police.

Dealing with police was initially a positive experience. The officer who took Walter’s statement was sympathetic. But later another officer told him he needed to provide a witness.

‘He asked me, have you got a witness. I says, no … I should have said “What the bloody hell are you talking about, how can you have a witness when someone’s abusing you?” What a ridiculous question …

‘He said “Well, there’s nothing really we can do” … He didn’t say that March denied it. He said we have interviewed Keith March, and is there a witness, and I said no – and he said well, we can’t really take it any further.

‘That makes me as mad as hell… I never heard one thing more about it.’

Walter told the Commissioner that he’d approached the police in the hope that an investigation might lead to other victims coming forward.

‘The main reason is I thought somebody else would come out of the woodwork’, he said. As it was, he just felt fobbed off. It wasn’t fully explained to him that March had been interviewed and there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed: ‘If they had have said that to me, it would have put me at ease.’ Instead, he said, it felt like ‘we just can’t be bothered with him’.

‘My opinion is that if I’d been a female, making the same complaint about a woman or a man, it would have been handled entirely differently. I would have had all the support in the world. But because I’m a male …

‘I felt let down, you know. They should have charged him.’

He doesn’t know what’s become of March. ‘No idea … Maybe he’s dead, I don’t know.’

Walter has not sought legal advice about his options nor approached the Anglican Church. He has post-traumatic stress disorder – ‘I’m not sure if that’s from something that happened in my childhood or something that happened when I was abused’ – and remains angry about what happened to him and the police’s inaction.

‘I am extremely angry’, he said.

‘I even fantasise about him some nights. … Him doing something to me, in a sexual way. I think about that a lot. And if he had never have done that to me I would have led a completely different life.’

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