Xavier had suffered five years of abuse at the hands of his stepfather before he joined his private school in Sydney in the 1980s. He started in Grade 5. His music teacher was Steven Maher. Xavier was assaulted by Maher several times.
‘He’d walk me outside the classroom and he’d try to put his finger in my bum, over my shorts’, Xavier told the Commissioner. ‘A couple of times he tried to put his hand inside my shorts but I’d stop him.’
‘At the time I didn’t really think anything of it because what was going on at home was a million times worse.’
Xavier’s abuse as a small child had left him vulnerable to further attacks. ‘I just sort of thought it was commonplace – how adults behaved, at the time.’
In the first year of high school at the same school Xavier got into trouble and was sent to the headmaster’s office. ‘It was a horrendous crime for Year 7’s to be laughing in their lunch break.’
‘He made me take my pants down. He said, “And your underpants”. He made me stand there a number of minutes with my pants down before he got out of his chair and caned my bare backside.’
‘That affected me more than anything Mr Maher did.’
The combined effects of the abuse at home and school hit Xavier as he moved into his teens. ‘I didn’t even realise what was happening to me until one day I saw an ad [about sexual abuse] on the television and I said, “That’s me, that’s what happens at my home”. And suddenly the penny dropped.’ Xavier confronted his stepfather and told him to stop. He tried to tell his mother what had happened but was not believed. He ran away from home.
‘I was a straight A student when I started … Always first, or always second.’ Xavier stopped going to school and was expelled in Year 8.
‘I started smoking marijuana, got into drugs. I got kicked out of pretty much every school I went to after that.’
Xavier was sent to a series of schools but could not settle into any of them. He did not finish high school, quitting altogether in Year 11. Throughout his troubled years at school no one asked him questions about what was behind his behaviour. ‘They put it down to me being on drugs … “Oh he’s on drugs, he’s lost his way”. They didn’t stop and say, “Why is he on drugs”?’
As an adult Xavier has had difficulty maintaining intimate relationships. ‘I guess I’ve never really addressed it. I just have these relationships that are unthreatening or unchallenging or they just fall apart when there is too much conflict.’
Xavier has also struggled with depression. ‘Couple of times I tried to kill myself. Obviously unsuccessfully, thankfully.’ He has sought counselling, but does not feel he has ever found the right person.
‘Finding the right counsellor these days is like winning the lottery, in my opinion.’
Xavier had worked in many different jobs, none of them with any real prospects. In his 30s, he realised he could complete his Higher School Certificate and go to university as a mature age student. He has now finished a degree and a masters and is holding down a good professional job. The study has been a challenge but has made a difference to his life.
Xavier believes parents need to be educated in child sexual abuse so they can recognise the signs of trouble and are prepared to believe their children when they come to them. And children need to know there is a way to report their abuse.
‘You just need to make sure there’s always an open line of communication for them.’
Xavier still sees his mother. She remains married to Xavier’s stepfather.