“All I want is for someone to say it wasn’t my fault and to give me a hug”

“All I want is for someone to say it wasn’t my fault and to give me a hug”

From his Californian bungalow in an upbeat suburb of Perth, Gary

keeps an eye on the newspapers and listens to radio reports about

the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. He is endlessly moved

by the courage of so many people who suffered at the hands of their

institutional carers.

“Something really bad happened to me when I was 10 years old

and I didn’t talk to anyone about it,” he says over the telephone on a

flawless autumn day this May. “It wasn’t until last year when the Royal

Commission started to unearth all these stories about children being

shamed into silence that I decided it was time to tell.”

He wrote a submission to the Royal Commission and awaited a

response.

Gary’s abuser was a stranger – a charismatic and disarming character

who approached Gary and a friend on a Saturday afternoon in 1962 as

the boys hunted for treasure at the local rubbish tip. The man then lured

Gary to a public toilet block where he sexually assaulted him. The events

of that day are printed like a photograph on his memory, but it was what

happened later that really changed the course of his life.

“I knew this guy had done something wrong so I went straight home

and told my mother,” says Gary, calling up the same indignation he felt

on the day of the assault. “She listened to me and sat there, almost like

she didn’t know what to do next. Then, being a strong Catholic, I assume

she went to tell the priest.”

The following Monday, Gary’s mother said the priest wanted to talk to

him. “She sent me up to the church all by myself; not to the confessional

booth but to the priest’s office with its big windows, huge chairs and this

enormous wooden desk. I was terrified.” The priest asked Gary a series of

confusing questions like had he encouraged the man, had he enjoyed it

and was he one of those ‘naughty homosexuals’. “He called me a sinner

and told me to stay out of trouble,” says Gary. “My father was never

told and my mother never mentioned it again.” The offending stranger

disappeared into the ether.

Gary replays these days in his head, over and over. He is still amazed at

how quickly he was made to feel like the perpetrator and how “nobody

thought to call the cops”. With time though, he has come to understand

“My father was a domineering man and a strict disciplinarian,” he says.

“When I was seven my mother gave birth to a baby girl who died, and

soon after that, my parents separated. My mother and I moved into

a rundown rental and she worked as a cleaner to pay the bills. It was

rare for a wife to leave her husband in those days, and my mother was

petrified of being viewed as a tainted woman by the church.” Having a

son who was branded a sinner would have only made matters worse.

Carrying a sense of responsibility for his mother’s wellbeing and eager

to please a disparaging and distant father, Gary learned to adapt to

whatever his parents found most pleasing. Like many survivors, he made

himself busy and became an achiever, reasoning that people would

value him for his performance and accomplishments.

“I’ve had a successful career and held senior roles in large organisations.

In my 40s I completed a master’s degree and have taught students

from all over the state,” says Gary. “But always lurking in the background

is this feeling of worthlessness and a fear of failure.” He says the actions

of dismissive and harsh bosses always cut deep. “At one stage I went

through a long period of depression and had thoughts of suicide,”

he says.

Problems with self-esteem have also impacted his romantic

relationships. “I have had three or four long-term relationships but I

always went in with the expectation that they would end,” he says. “For

the past 25 years I have chosen to be single, but there are many times

when I wish I had married and had a family. I should be a grandfather

now.”

Having spent most of his life in a cone of silence, Gary is almost surprised

at how good it feels to tell his story. “Talking about what happened to

me has been cathartic and taken away some of the isolation. I like to

be seen as a survivor and not a victim, which is why I agreed to help

ASCA make a video about the plight of survivors,” he says, referring to a

series of short educational videos that will soon be available on ASCA’s

website. “Before they turned on the camera, the ASCA interviewer asked

me what I hoped to gain from participating, and I said: All I want is for

someone to say it wasn’t my fault and to give me a hug.”

A few weeks ago, Gary got a letter back from the Royal Commission

thanking him for his submission and stating that his case was outside

the terms of reference. “I knew this might happen, but it was important

to clarify things anyway,” he says. “I feel stronger for it.”

These days, Gary spends his time travelling, volunteering at a local Men’s

Shed, and visiting his 95-year-old mother. He reckons he is better at

dealing with authority and tries not to overreact to perceived slights by

fighting back.

He says his new-found sense of strength has helped him to maintain

friendships. “Going public had a mixed outcome with my friends. All of

my female friends responded well, but some male friendships have been

strained. One guy I have known for 45 years was initially withdrawn,

while another friend of seven years dropped me like a stone,” he says.

The rejection gnaws at Gary. “Whenever things like this happen it makes

me feel like the perpetrator all over again, but I don’t feel the need to

blame people anymore.” He says he doesn’t regret his decision to reveal

his abuse history. “I can’t go back and I don’t want to. After I made

the video with ASCA I was buzzing for a week. Finally I felt heard and

validated.”

If you would like to share your Road to Recovery journey with our

Breaking Free readers, please contact the editor Cherie Marriott at

newsletter@asca.org.au. She will call you to arrange an interview.

All content will be checked with you prior to publication.

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