For William, the past doesn’t stay in the past – bad experiences as a child have led to bad experiences as an adult. ‘Now’, he said, ‘I’ve got a whole life of trauma as a result of the abuse’.
It began in the mid-1970s when William was eight years old. Eager to get out of the house and away from his violent father, William took his mother’s advice and joined an Anglican Church Boys Brigade near his home in Western Australia. There he met the Reverend Glen Miles who went on to sexually abuse him several times.
The abuse came at a time when William was already feeling confused, vulnerable and in need of a strong father figure. Miles took advantage of this.
‘Towards the end of that period I was craving to see this man. And I can’t tell you how devastating it is to think that way now. But he turned what was a craving and a need for just normal love into some sick and bizarre craving for him … What was just a basic human child’s need was really twisted into something that’s taken me decades to unpack and that I’m still unpacking now.’
In the wake of the abuse William became ‘over-sexualised’. As a young man he went into the underground gay scene and participated in risky sexual behaviours. ‘Really putting myself into risk and danger’, he said. ‘I can look back on that now and see how related that is to Miles.’
In a way, William said, all his troubles connected back to the sexual abuse. That abuse was an ‘extra layer’ of trauma that exacerbated the feelings of guilt, shame, confusion and disappointment that William felt in regard to his sexuality and self-worth.
‘Every disappointment I’ve had, every small betrayal has fed into this [the abuse] all my life. So I have a terrible sense of disappointment about myself and my life. And I can rationalise it and I can talk about it and I can say that it’s not really who I am but it’s had a terrible impact on me.’
In time, however, William’s struggle with his sexuality became a positive thing. It forced him to examine himself, thereby helping him to gain greater insight into all his problems, including the sexual abuse.
‘I feel very fortunate that in some ways I haven’t become a twisted knot of hate of a person, and maybe partly being gay has actually helped that, now that I think and reflect about it. It’s meant that I’ve had to kind of separate these issues out a bit.’
William didn’t speak about the abuse until the early 2010s when he disclosed to a counsellor. With ongoing support from the counsellor and a loving partner, he’s now considering the possibility of taking legal action against the Anglican Church. It won’t be the end of his struggle, William said, but it’s another step in the process.
‘You can deal with all your other issues but the sexual abuse issues will just will keep coming up until you’ve started to deal with them, and even then they’re going to keep coming up. It’s just about you being able to look at them differently and trying to put strategies in place to take care of yourself better.’