Aidan told the Commissioner that he was physically and sexually abused over many years by a number of different perpetrators. He said, ‘It was like I had a sign: “Free for Use”.’
In the early 1970s, when Aidan was in year 4, one of his teachers started to keep him back after class. ‘He used to make me perform oral sex on him, locked in a cubicle between two classrooms.’
Aidan didn’t report the abuse to anyone at home. ‘I was frightened of my parents, because there was abuse happening in the home as well.’ The abuse at home included an incident where Aidan, age 8, was raped by his cousin.
Back at school, the teacher continued to abuse Aidan regularly over several months until the principal figured out ‘that something’s not right’. No official action was taken but Aidan said, ‘I never had an experience with the teacher after it, so one assumes something may have been said’.
Aidan moved on to high school. During his first year, his friend Max told him about an Anglican priest named Father Ryan who lived behind the church.
‘He told me how this guy was pretty cool. He gave you cigarettes and alcohol and biscuits and allowed you to drive his car.'
'So we used to wag school at lunchtimes to go up and visit this guy. And he was everything that Max said: understanding, friendly, helpful, providing.’
The two boys visited Father Ryan a few times a week for several months, and nothing much happened during that time. Then things started to change.
‘He’d take Max aside into his office and they’d be gone a few minutes, and according to Max nothing ever happened. But when the priest did try something with him. Max was – he hadn’t been victimised previously so Max was able to shrug him off and go “Come on, get over it, you dirty old poof”. Whereas me, I just froze when it started. I knew what was happening but I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t leave, I just blacked out.’
More incidents occurred after that, usually involving fondling and kissing. Aidan said that while the priest was abusing him he would say ‘this is love, this is God’ and when he was done he would moan over and over, ‘Oh my conscience’.
After a while Max broke away and stopped visiting the house. Aidan continued to visit on his own for the next two years. In time, he felt that the priest was getting more pushy and abrupt.
‘I was getting a bit over it. I’m thinking to myself, “This is not the way it should be, this is bad. I don’t like myself, I feel conflicted every time this happens”. But I couldn’t stop going and I don’t know why.’
Then one day, just after Aidan arrived, Father Ryan locked the door. It was the first time he had done it. Aidan felt uneasy. The priest began doing his usual thing but then Aidan sensed it was going to go further this time. He panicked and smashed the glass in one of the doors, trying to get out of the house.
There were no more incidents after that. After high school Aidan managed to block out the bad memories and enjoy some exciting times in a new city. Then a few years later, ‘it just started seeping back into consciousness and I couldn’t overwhelm it’.
He sought help and began sessions with a psychologist. It was ‘the start of me getting courageous enough to do something’. It was a difficult journey. Aidan self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, lost several jobs and damaged some of his relationships. He also got into trouble with the law and began using his history of abuse ‘as an excuse’ for his behaviour.
Eventually he went into detox and got off the drugs. Then in 2001 he went to police, reported his abusers and began a long and complex quest for justice.
Aidan’s cousin was charged with rape but the case was later abandoned due to lack of evidence. As for the other matters, Aidan was told that the police couldn’t find the teacher from his primary school and that Father Ryan had died. Aidan ‘fell apart’ after that and needed a lot of support, which he said the police did not provide.
Several years later, Aidan was starting to get his life back on track when he happened to see a TV interview with a woman who had been abused. ‘It encouraged me enough and angered me enough that I rang the Church the next day.’
He participated in a redress process run through the Anglican Church’s Professional Standards Unit. It didn’t go well. Aidan said he felt that they lied to him, tried to manipulate him and treated him ‘like an insurance claim’. But there was one good outcome: they informed him that Father Ryan was still alive.
Aidan went back to police. His experience this time was radically different: ‘energy and devotion, so different from 2001’. Father Ryan was charged with offences against Aidan and several other men. The priest went through several stages of the pre-trial process and at the very last minute pleaded guilty. Because of his age he was given a suspended sentence. Aidan said:
‘I was bereft because I was robbed. I was robbed of my day in court. I wanted to tell the world what he did. That was stolen. That was him again, taking control.’
Still, Aidan remains optimistic about the future. He told the Commissioner that in the wake of the abuse, ‘I only had three choices left to make. One was to be like him and do what he did to gain my power back, which I’m sure is how they get to where they are. Two was to die. Three was to survive. As I said, the choice is apparent. I chose to keep living’.