Remy grew up in Canberra in the 1970s. His family was part of a close-knit Catholic community there. In Year 7, he took up a scholarship at a Catholic boarding school in a regional NSW town. While there he was subjected to sexual abuse by two of the Catholic teachers.
At the end of Year 10, to his parents’ dismay, he refused to return to the school. He completed his last two years at another college. He suffered from depression and was prescribed medication. He was sent to the school counsellor. But he never spoke of the abuse, to anyone.
That remained the case through his troubled 20s. In his early 30s, his wife answered a call from the police, who wanted to speak to Remy. They didn’t tell her why – he had to do that, when he returned home later that evening. They were investigating claims of sexual abuse at his Catholic boarding school and wanted to know if he had been a victim.
For Remy, the forced revelation to his wife that night was the beginning of a process that, as he explained to the Commissioner, compounded the trauma of his childhood abuse. From being contacted by police, through disclosing to his wife and family, giving statements, waiting for the case to come to trial, appearing in court and pursuing a civil claim against the school, he has felt he was not in control. Others were pulling the strings – just as they had when he was being sexually abused.
‘You lose control of what has been private for a very long time’, he said. ‘I think that's probably the worst thing … You're just getting victimised again, because you have no control over what's happening. I've got to say, if other victims are like me, control is a very important thing, because that's the one thing we didn't have.’
Both Remy’s abusers were prosecuted by police. There were multiple victims and several trials. Eight years after Remy first spoke to police, the court matters have not yet concluded, though both his abusers have been convicted on some charges. Remy had a number of observations to share with the Commissioner, arising from the issues he’d encountered throughout his years dealing with the criminal justice system.
First, he felt there should be specialised training for police officers, lawyers, judges and others dealing with victims of child sexual abuse. Giving his statement to police was the first time Remy had spoken about what happened to him, and it was very painful. Better preparation would have helped him, he said.
‘I really think anyone that investigates this kind of stuff really needs some special training – on how to engage and help people build the story, and about how people will struggle to talk about it even if they've said they will.’
Judges, too, need better skills.
‘I've got to say, they might be compassionate but I don't think judges have a clue what a victim is going through in this. And what they might consider acceptable behaviour in the courtroom and acceptable tactics isn't, because – and I appreciate there are false claims and all those sorts of things in this kind of space – the focus should be on getting an outcome and the care of the victims. The victims get re-traumatised through this whole thing, and [judges] don't seem to get that.’
Communication has been another issue. The first DPP case officer Remy dealt with was terrific, he said. ‘She kept in contact with you and made you feel like she cared.’ But his experience since has included many unexplained last-minute changes. When a scheduled court appearance was abruptly cancelled, he felt suicidal – ‘It just shattered me … I still haven't been told what the issues were.
‘Don't give the expectation that you're involved in a trial if you're not, because I spent weeks gearing up and being ready for that, and then – bang!’
He is critical of the defence lawyers, who have employed ‘tricks and traps’ and ‘every tactic they can to delay and drag all of this out’, he said.
‘Specifically, I think there should be standards, and there should be rules that are applied and followed that remove the uncertainty in this process. So if we’re going to go to court on a day, we go and it starts, and the defence cannot sit there and say, “I’m sorry, your Honour, I’m busy”.
'If people can't meet the standards, give them a kick in the arse and tell them to lift their game. Because this isn't about some lawyers. In my opinion – and, yes, it's a very selfish one – it's about the victims.’
Remy turned to civil action against the school in the hope of a financial outcome that would make things easier for his four children. So far this has been another distressing experience, with no resolution in sight. Again, Remy has found it overly legalistic.
‘To be blunt, in terms of the school, they’re obviously taking a legal position because they’ve never had any contact with me. There’s no acknowledgement, no anything.’
He believes this is because the school fears an apology would be seen as an admission of liability.
‘I appreciate the liability issues in these kinds of things but this shouldn't be about liability … It should be about a conversation and a journey, and trying to get to an end that helps people, not an end that protects the reputation or the financial viability of an organisation. And especially when you're dealing with these sorts of institutions that are supposedly about people.’
Another frustration is that any assessment of damages would focus solely on him and not take into account the impact on his family. ‘The damage this has done to them is what I'm worried about. The damage it's done to me is done …
‘Quite frankly, I'm not sure how I'll get closure. It's a wound that's always going to be there. It's just about lessening the impact of that wound …
'You know, for eight years now, my life's been taken out of my control again. So I'm reliving the experience and it's just fucked because you know as a grown-up you can see it in a very different light than you do as a small child.’