‘It is ridiculously all-encompassing just how crippling it is, and I get quite upset … I’ve done okay, but the person I may have become, or the person I could have become if I didn’t have all this in my life … I’d rather not be a person who’s been in a mental home seven times, and things like that.’
Rodney ‘was always happy’ at his Catholic primary school in Victoria, but ‘things fell apart’ when he moved to a college run by the Christian Brothers, in Grade 5.
One of the lay teachers at the school sexually abused Rodney more than 400 times, from the age of nine. Much of the abuse occurred at lunch times in Mr Benson’s office. At other times, it happened when Mr Benson invited Rodney to stay at his beach house.
‘He invited me down to his house … he hopped into bed with me and started fondling me and telling me not to tell anyone about “our little secret”, as he put it.’ Rodney recalled, ‘He pointed a rifle at me when I was nine … He took [it] out of his cupboard … and he goes, “I’ve got a … gun here. Geez I haven’t used this for ages”. I took it as a blatant threat’.
Rodney told the Commissioner that he was called to Mr Benson’s office at lunch time, ‘and that would happen three and four times a week for four-odd years … I think it was about 13, 14 [when it stopped], and I remember thinking back then I was too old, and that’s why he stopped seeing me’.
Each lunch time, Mr Benson would give Rodney a massage. ‘So I’d be naked and on my back and he’d undress and he’d always slide his penis in and out between … really, really high up in my thighs, and then he’d … masturbate me … and that was the ritual virtually every single time.’
Mr Benson’s office was fairly secluded, and it was unlikely that they would be disturbed, but Rodney remembers, ‘living in fear. “My God, if someone finds out”, because back then, being a poofter at … an all-boys school, it was one of the worst things you could be. And I didn’t know the difference, obviously, between being a poofter and being …’
Rodney didn’t tell anyone at the school about the abuse because ‘I felt the fear of being ridiculed’.
Rodney repressed the memories of the abuse until he was in his early 20s. It occasionally came into his mind as a teenager, but he brushed it aside. At school, ‘I started risk-taking. I started experimenting with drugs. I started smoking. And this is a person … [who was] a [champion] athlete’.
When he did finally remember what had happened, ‘I left my marriage. I left my kids. I left my job. I went on the dole. I got into drugs. I became a drug dealer. [Then] I [had two jobs] … Nobody’s fool mentally, but my life, absolutely and catastrophically disintegrated’.
After about a year of drinking excessively and self-harming, Rodney thought, ‘This is important. This was big', and he told his parents about the sexual abuse. They have always been very supportive of him, but he knows his mental health issues have taken a toll on his relationship with them.
Rodney has been married twice and has several children. His first marriage broke up when his wife started to come home and ‘find me unconscious and covered in blood. We knew something was … At that stage I didn’t know why’.
Rodney was certain that he wasn’t the only one who had been abused at his school, so he set out to find other survivors. He was contacted by over 100 former students and a number of them took Mr Benson to court. He pleaded guilty to some of the charges and was sent to prison. Getting Mr Benson convicted was ‘one of the proudest things I’ve ever done’.
Rodney and some other claimants pursued a civil claim against the Christian Brothers. The process was ‘agonising. It took three or four years … Some people suicided during that process. By the time we got to the settlement … you’ve never seen such a mess and a rabble. Their first offer to me, who was abused four or five hundred times, was $5,000’.
In the end, Rodney received a larger sum, but to him it was still ‘an incredibly ridiculous [amount]. Considering I’m now borderline personality disorder … depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, constantly seeing psychiatrists, psychologists.'
‘I can’t live with people. I’ve just detoxed off alcohol. I self-harm three or four times a month. I’ve had three suicide attempts in the last four months … My life is a disaster. I can’t have a relationship. I’m a complete … I can present okay. I can kind of hold a job, but I’m dangerous to myself.’ Rodney has an understanding boss, who lets him take sick leave as needed.
Rodney told the Commissioner, ‘I’m pleased and proud that I’ve been able to keep two professional jobs, but I never want that to be seen as [diminishing] the effect that sexual abuse has had on me and you know, my kids, my family … the effects are horrific, and they’re still going on, and they involve everyone around me’.
When Rodney originally spoke to Royal Commission staff, he did not feel healthy enough to come forward. ‘This time I came because … I wanted … validation, and just to stress the implications it’s had on my life and … just how far it spread in its life’s horizons of other people … It just doesn’t go away that easy.’