Xander’s school in regional New South Wales had an unconventional approach to teaching, with a focus on the arts and students calling teachers by their first names. The founder, Mr Forster, taught some classes and managed the school, and liked to rotate principals every year. When Xander started there in the 1990s he found this relaxed teaching style enticing.
Forster would invite two boys at a time to come over to his house after school, and the younger students thought of this as a privilege.
‘I remember in the classroom overhearing somebody was going to his house and they said it was a lot of fun, he had a pool. It was good to go there.’
One afternoon when Xander was six years old he and his classmate Kieran were selected to go to Forster’s home. He was excited to go swimming like the other boys did.
At Forster’s house Xander was separated from Kieran and led to the bedroom, and told to strip naked and get into the bed for a nap. Forster forced Xander to perform oral sex until he ejaculated, then told Xander to ‘wash off’ in the pool.
Xander was left in the pool unattended and believes that Forster abused Kieran. Forster told Xander ‘I shouldn’t tell anyone that he loves me, no one would understand’.
Xander’s mother, Louise, picked him up that afternoon and immediately sensed something was wrong. She refused to drive the car until Xander told her what was going on, but he lied and said ‘nothing happened’ because he was worried he would get into trouble. He never told anyone about the abuse while he was at school.
After the abuse Xander lost interest in school and his academic performance suffered. He was labelled as a disruptive child and spent a lot of time in detention. At 12 years old he began self-harming, continuing to so into his early 20s, hiding the marks by wearing long sleeves.
Louise found a counsellor for Xander half way through Year 10 as he had ‘a lot of anxiety issues’. His interest in school deteriorated to the point where he dropped out. Depressed, he barely left the house for the next six months.
Xander abused alcohol for many years. He developed an aggressive attitude and would often break objects at home. He told the Commissioner he broke down his bedroom wall with his fists, and also his bedroom door.
When Xander was in his late teens he had a child and resolved to turn his life around. The baby was a good distraction for a while as he wanted to ‘do better’ for her. However, the relationship he had with his daughter’s mother ended and he relapsed into his old behaviours.
Xander first disclosed the abuse when he was 25, confiding in his then partner. Shortly after this he told Louise, and she informed him that three other school friends were also abused by Forster.
‘A lot of the fuzz has gone, being able to piece pieces together from my childhood. Why my late teens, early 20s was a mess and relationships never worked. Piecing it all together has lifted the damp blanket off my mind and I feel a bit more aware. I feel a bit more clear in my own life now.’
Louise and Xander have reported the abuse to the police, and he has received $10,000 compensation. Xander thinks Louise feels guilty for not knowing about the abuse earlier. They both hold the school accountable for what happened to the many boys who attended the school during the years Forster taught.
‘I think being children and surrounded by adults you would expect some sort of security. I think it would have taken a willingly blind person to not see what was going on.’