Warner grew up in Sydney in the 1960s in what he described as a ‘very, very typical’ family. Over the years, his stable background made him reluctant to delve into the impacts of the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.
‘I just put it away. I’ve been very reticent in my life generally. Coming from a very loving family, very caring parents, my father never hit us, I was successful academically, I’ve been successful professionally – I’ve never had any really bad things happen to me.’
When he was four, Warner was hospitalised for about three months while he was treated for a severe burn to his hand. During his stay, he contracted German measles and was placed in an isolation ward for about 12 days.
When a Catholic priest came to visit him in the isolation unit Warner felt anxious, partly because he was Anglican and not used to seeing Catholic priests, but also because most things in the hospital environment were a little scary.
‘He first came on his own and attempted to abuse me and molest me. That was interrupted and he left. He came back one or two days later and molested me and he wasn’t interrupted. On the third occasion he came, I shitted myself and that was the last time he visited. After that the nursing staff sort of scolded me for shitting myself, and that was really the essence of the abuse that occurred.’
Warner said the experience was frightening, not least because the priest restrained him during the abuse. It was also confusing, because he was someone in authority who was very friendly with the nurses, as if he were a doctor with every reason to be there. Warner didn’t tell anyone what had happened.
‘The memories did stay with me really up until my early 20s, at which point I rationally chose to block them out and not think about them, or not think about them regularly. But I’ve had recurring nightmares since the time and I’ve never successfully had a shower on my own without being afraid that someone’s about to attack me. I’ve pretty much had a panic attack once a day since that time.’
Warner said the impact on him has ebbed and flowed over the years, sometimes becoming very prominent in his life.
‘I parked most of it away. I didn’t want to think about it. But there were related things. I don’t like getting into a lift. I’m claustrophobic. So there’s always been some specific reminders along the way. There’s no getting away from this.’
In the early 2000s, after his father died, Warner disclosed the abuse to his sister, although not the rest of his family, as he didn’t want his ageing mother to feel any sense of blame for what happened. He also went to see a therapist, but described that process as ‘a bit of a train wreck’. The counsellor left him feeling uncomfortable and disengaged, so he stopped going.
He did, however, feel better for having talked about it, so a few years later he disclosed to his GP, and asked to be referred to somebody more qualified to help him. Armed with this referral he made another attempt at therapy. After two good sessions, the third was terrible – demeaning, disrespectful and with inappropriate behaviour – so Warner made a complaint against the therapist.
Warner said it’s important that people who need help to get over child sexual abuse are sent to the right people, and he’s hoping steps can be made to improve the process.
‘I would like to see better certification of therapists, and education for people that are likely to be in a position to refer to therapists … It’s hard for a GP to know who to refer you to, so if there’s certification you can see these people are well qualified to deal with these matters.’
Warner is now dealing with things his own way, and doing well.
‘Having had that door unlocked and being intelligent and purposeful in the way I approach things, it was very easy to then start to read about these things and process it a lot more easily. So I’ve been able to much more readily separate me now from the child who was abused.’