Chris Mordd Richards tells his personal story of survival.
If you have been sexually assaulted by someone, please do not suffer in silence for as long as I did without telling someone or seeking professional help. You are not alone and help is there for you.
Now that the royal commission into child sex abuse is over, many victims have had the chance to tell their story and be heard. Many other victims remain unheard though, all around the country, people who were also abused in their childhood, just not by a church figure.
Child sex abuse is, sadly, widespread throughout our community, and impacts many more than just the victim, with the family and friends of survivors also affected.
I am one of the many thousands out there abused outside the church. My abuse occurred inside the home, which is where this type of abuse most commonly occurs. I wanted the chance to tell my story, as part of my own healing process, and in the hope it will reach others also suffering as I was for many years due to the abuse I endured at age 14.
I just want to make clear, this piece isn’t about Same Sex Marriage, it isn’t even about Safe Schools – or whatever other personal ideology you want to project onto it.
This is about men who take advantage of children for their own sexual gratification, regardless of age, gender, sexual preference or faith. This is about the surviving victims of their abuse, those many thousands out there for whom there will never be a Royal Commission.
It took me almost 20 years before I told came forward about what had happened to me, and, unable to name my accuser any longer, this is the only chance I have to tell my story, in my own words, and be heard as a survivor.
Research by the recently concluded Australian Royal Commission on child abuse found that the average delay between the onset of child sex abuse and the victim coming forward was *22 years*. #bennell
— Jonathan West (@JonathanWest_) February 19, 2018
I was 32 years old, before I stopped being embarrassed or ashamed of being a survivor of adult male sexual assault. The stigmatisation in society of ‘victims‘of sexual assault – especially women, but also teens and even children– is a real issue. It also took me a long time to come to grips with my experience, especially against the background of my Asperger’s and bi-polar disorder over those years.
Now I am ready to speak publicly about my story, in the hope it may reach and help others and act in its own small way towards reducing the stigmatisation around surviving sexual assault, regardless of age. I have to remind myself often: I did nothing wrong, this was done to me, but it does not define me, it merely informs who I am.
You will notice I used the word ‘victim’ in quotation marks in the above paragraph. That is because the word victim is not very popular among sexual assault survivors, or those who provide support services to them.
Miriam Webster offers up three different meanings for the word:
‘One that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent;
One that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions;
One that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment;
One that is tricked or duped.’
For me, none of those really come close to describing the soul-crushing effect on your life of being sexually assaulted by another.
In modern Western society the word victim seems to portray an element of at least partial blame or culpability on behalf of the affected person, and sexual assault survivors are often forced to justify their accounts to be believed. No-one would force a child to justify being raped though, I can hear some of you thinking that right now.
While that is generally true, the pervasiveness of blaming victims in general and the stigmatisation around males being the victim of sexual assault growing up, kept me from coming forward or telling almost anyone about the assault on me for a very long time, way longer than I now wish was the case.
It was not until four years ago I started properly identifying myself as a survivor, instead of a victim, with the help of counselling from the Canberra-based support service SAMSSA (the Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault offers counselling and support to men over the age of 16 in the ACT and surrounding region. They can be reached on their Crisis line: (02) 6247 2525, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is my story. An alias is used for the name of the perpetrator, as his name is no longer known to me. Some elements of the story have been altered in very minor ways for the purposes of the piece, and some of the time periods mentioned may be a day or two off on either side, due to the nature of memories involving traumatic events and the intervening time period. The main elements are completely factual and occurred roughly as described.
CANBERRA, SPRING OF 1996, a middle class suburban home in the south of the city.
Chris is asleep in his parent’s house, 14-years-old, the eldest of four boys and the child of separated parents, soon to be divorced. A couple of days earlier, his mother had left on a three-week long overseas trip to stay with her sister and family in Africa, where they lived and worked as missionaries at the time.
His parent’s relationship is in tatters, even that much is obvious to him, and there is no chance of reconciliation between them. Six months prior, his father had come out as gay to Chris and his brothers. Chris didn’t really understand the full impact of what that meant, but he knew what sex was by then – despite his conservative Christian upbringing, he knew being gay meant his dad liked men instead of women, and he was fine with that.
When Allan first came out to him, he told his dad that he didn’t completely know what it meant, “but he was his dad, and he would always love him and nothing would ever change that”.
Allan had recently started openly dating a man for the first time, a tall, well-built masseuse in his late 40’s named Charles. Charles was a friendly guy, especially to Chris, who often felt starved for social attention due to a misdiagnosed mental health condition that left him socially inept among his peers. He found Charles’ interest in him engaging and welcome at first.
After his mother had left on her trip, Charles had started sleeping overnight at the house, in his parent’s former marriage bed. Chris was fine with this at first, and he enjoyed the extra attention Charles gave him when he was around.
This lasted until the morning Charles woke Chris around 5am, sitting on the side of his bed.
Charles’ hand was rubbing his genitals, which he realised were firmly erect, as he awoke to Charles telling him “It’s okay, don’t panic, don’t scream, it’s all okay”. With feelings of sexual confusion flooding his brain and an overriding sense of trust and faith in adults instilled since birth, he allowed Charles to masturbate him to completion without much protest or complaint.
After Charles was done, he told Chris that he must not say anything about their “experience” to anyone, especially not his father. If he told Allan, Charles said, then Allan would want Charles to take Chris into bed with both of them, and he was trying to protect Chris from this, he said.
In his confused state, and with social naivety bred from a life of conservative upbringing, Chris let himself believe at the time Charles was telling the truth, that his father would want that, although for reasons that never made sense then or since.
He did what Charles wanted, and said nothing to anyone about the growing number of mornings he and Charles would share an “experience” together. He didn’t even want to think about it let alone tell anyone, so ashamed and embarrassed of it all for reasons he could not even hope to comprehend at the time. The soon daily visits to his bed just before sunrise fast became normalised for Chris. So traumatic and chaotic was his life in general at the time that this was simply too much for his psyche to process, so without even realising, he simply adapted as best he could, and internalised it all.
The “experiences” each morning only came towards an end after two weeks of what by then involved much more sexual activity than where it had started. Allan had been out for hours on business and had left Chris at home by himself to be watched over by Charles. Chris’ younger brothers were all staying at friends’ houses till the morning.
As Charles was a masseuse, and often carried a fancy folding massage table and supplies in his car, and knowing by then that Chris had regular upper back pain growing up, he offered to give Chris a massage. Telling Chris that in order to be able to massage him properly, and with Chris well-groomed to his abuse by this point, Charles easily convinced him that he needed to strip down naked and have a small towel placed over his middle for the massage.
It was only 15 minutes into the massage that Chris heard the sound of the door, his father had just returned home – early. Although that afternoon Charles had not touched Chris sexually in any way at that point, the sight of his soon to be 15-year-old son lying naked on the massage table, and his boyfriend oiled up obviously in the middle of massaging him, was too much for Allan.
As Allan orders Chris to his room he is already yelling at Charles, but Chris doesn’t hear any of the specific words, he has gone into shock and is functioning on pure survival instincts. All he can think to do is hide. So hide he does, curling up in the back of his wardrobe in the foetal position. The rest of the night is thankfully a blank to him, his mind still protecting him at that point at least from the horrors of what he had experienced the past few weeks.
After that, Allan never talks to Chris about what happened that night, other than to tell him he is not to let Charles massage him again for any reason. Charles is back around the house within a day or two though, having apparently made up with Allan. After this point, something inside Chris is starting to finally tell him that he cannot trust Charles, and thankfully the morning visits don’t resume when Charles starts sleeping over at the house again.
Perhaps sensing that the trust and control he had managed to groom into Chris is starting to weaken, Charles soon plays the ‘Ace up his Sleeve’ to get Chris alone, using the one thing Chris loves more than just about anything at that point in life – books, specifically fiction he could escape into in an attempt get away from, or make sense of, the confused and messy life he’d had by that point.
Charles has often bragged about his massive collection of novels, and he offers to let Chris come to his house and choose any he wants to keep, as many as he wants. Since Charles has so many books though, he explains to Chris and Allan, it makes sense if Chris stayed overnight at Charles’ house with him, so he could have plenty of time to pick out and choose as many books as he wanted to take home the next day.
Despite a gut feeling that something about it all was not right, and his distrust of Charles and their “experiences” at that point, the allure of the offer was just too much for Chris. By then starting to exhibit elements of Stockholm syndrome and desperately still wanting to trust Charles, despite some inner voice trying hoarsely to yell otherwise, Chris accepted the offer and Allan raised no objections to it.
The next day, Allan drops Chris off at Charles’ house, promising to pick him up in the morning with his new books. That afternoon and evening after dinner, Chris happily busies himself picking out a collection of 50 or so novels he is already excited to read, while Charles potters about the house. Come bedtime, the mood changes.
Charles now dressed in a robe, asks Chris to come into his bedroom to talk with him, and Chris goes along reluctantly but with a slowly growing sense of dread. Charles closes the door behind them and hops on the bed, motioning for Chris to sit next to him. The conversation is brief, and before Chris realises what is going on, Charles has removed his robe and is sitting there naked on the bed, reaching forward to take Chris’ pyjamas off as well, and trying to kiss him.
Finally, after trying to exert control for almost three weeks now, something deep inside Chris, motivated by self-preservation and the refusal to be victimised any longer, bursts forth and takes over. Chris wrenches himself free of Charles, and runs for the door. Flinging it open he runs for the guest room he is meant to be sleeping in, slamming and then locking the door behind him.
Grabbing a quilt and pillow, Chris hides under the bed and blocks out the sound of Charles banging on the door and yelling; as he succumbs to sleep not long after, shock having likely taken over by then, all he can remember thinking is, “What if he doesn’t let me keep the books now?”.
The next morning, Chris is awoken to Charles knocking on the door and telling him his father was there to pick him up. After he dresses and cautiously emerges, Charles is back to normal ‘good boyfriend mode’ with Allan, and the books he had selected the day before are sitting in boxes by the door, waiting for Chris to take home, the ruse still just barely intact.
Allan can tell something is wrong though, Chris has completely shut down emotionally, verbally, and refuses to say anything to his father on the car ride home. Chris only sees Charles one more time after that day – a few days later, when he comes by to pick up some stuff of his at their family home. He and Allan have broken up, Chris doesn’t ask his father about it, and his father says little if anything to him about it either.
A day later Chris’ mother returns home from overseas, and the emotional whirlwind of his family’s break-up soon reasserts itself in his life, as his parents proceed with their divorce. With no-one he trusts enough to tell, and just subconsciously glad it is all over at that point, Chris quickly internalises it all, and life goes on.
SYDNEY, SUMMER OF 2001, a small apartment in the inner city.
At 19, Chris has finally decided to confront his father about what happened five years earlier with Charles. Chris decides to tell him for the first time, presuming he still doesn’t really know. To his amazement, his father’s response is, “I knew at the time, but I didn’t know what to do”. Allan goes on to explain that he suspected what might have been happening in the days and weeks leading up to that overnight stay with Charles, but claimed he wasn’t sure and didn’t know how to confront Charles, or what to do about it.
Allan tells Chris he only became sure after that overnight stay and the sudden change in his son’s behaviour in the days after, and that when he was sure Charles was more interested in Chris than himself as he put it, he dumped Charles on the spot, he tells Chris now. This isn’t much relief to Chris, who is now trying to process the concept for the first time that his father had let this happen to him.
Chris doesn’t end up going into much detail with Allan that day about what happened to him, nor does he reveal exactly how long it had gone on for – the shock from his father’s initial response has sent his psyche back into survival mode, and he won’t speak of it again for many years to come.
That day, the last he ever spoke of it with Allan, he asks his father to remind him what Charles’ name was, having already blocked it out by that point. Allan tells him, but in the years to come, it is lost again. It was just not something he wanted to remember, not intentionally but sub-consciously, he didn’t want the name in his head.
CANBERRA, WINTER OF 2010.
It is now just almost one year since his father Allan passed away. It is only recently that for the first time in his life, Chris contemplates going to the police and formally reporting the sexual assault on him as a teen. He is not sure why it never occurred to him to do so years earlier, beginning to blame himself anew as he realises he likely was not the first, nor the last, young person that Charles had victimised over the years.
If only he could remember Charles’ name. Try as he might though, he cannot. It has been lost from his memory years earlier, and the only person he knows who could easily tell him, his father Allan, is now deceased. Chris’ memory can no longer be jogged on the name of the monster who assaulted him all those years ago.
After struggling with the torment of the memories for around a year or more, Chris finally asks for help, and is referred to SAMSSA for counselling. There he is finally able to make peace with himself and, in part, with his father, thanks to the professional help he receives. But they advise him, without a name, or other pertinent details to report to the police, there may be little more, if anything, he can do.
CANBERRA, AUTUMN 2017.
At the age of 34, around eight months ago now, Chris finally told his mother for the first time about this experience early in his life. This is the first his mother has ever heard of any of it, and she is initially heartbroken and devastated to know Chris has carried the experience with him for so long in silence.
His mother goes on to reveal something Chris never knew until then – his father was sexually assaulted over a period of many years as an older teen, starting with an older relative when he was in high school. It also occurred at a boarding house when he was 16, and at a Christian conference he attended when he was 17, by some of the male church elders who ran the college.
Not only had Allan known what Chris had gone through from his own experience, Chris finally realises this goes some way to explaining why his father had been so hesitant or afraid to act when he first suspected Charles of assaulting him.
Likely not wanting to believe that could possibly be occurring to his son, and afraid to confront the truth due to his own pain and suffering as a teen, Allan unfortunately ended up an unwitting bystander to his own son’s torment, frozen into inaction until it was too late. Why Allan never went to the police himself or encouraged Chris to later on, is a question that will now never be answered.
Chris has finally realised though, after years of blaming his father, that Allan never intentionally failed to act to protect his son. He was ultimately almost as much of a victim in it all as Chris was. Finally, Chris is able to start to forgive his father for his role in it all, and start to really heal properly himself.
IT MIGHT be too late now for me to go to the police and have the perpetrator prosecuted, and I certainly can’t go back in time and tell myself not to forget the name of the person. What I can do though, is write about it as I have done here, tell my story, and tell others to not make the mistake I did in staying silent for so long.
If you have been assaulted, find someone you trust or contact a professional service, and ask for help. That act of reaching out is almost as difficult as the crime itself, but keeping it locked up inside yourself only does much more damage in the long run. It certainly has to me. I live with the regret of knowing I can’t ever report the man who did this to me, a regret I will have to the end of my days. I do take some solace though from the hope that if this piece helps even one other person out there who is struggling themselves, then that is at least some good that might come from it.
I wrote this piece in the third-person, as it was the easiest way for my brain to get this story written, without it tearing me apart as I wrote it. In many ways I think I have disconnected somewhat in my head, from the me that this happened to, to the me I am now, as a way of coping with the pain and trauma of it.
I can talk about it now without it tearing me up because I believe I have been able to disconnect from the raw emotions of it. It’s not that I don’t still feel the emotions, it’s just that I have learned how to mute them enough to function again, a process all survivors have to go through.
If something has happened to you, don’t sit in silence, professional counselling can really help and there is a dearth of services across the country setup to help survivors like me.
If you or anyone you know is affected by sexual assault, please contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or go to https://www.1800respect.org.au/– or for Adults surviving abuse as a child you can also contact BlueKnot on 1300 657 380 or go to http://www.blueknot.org.au/.
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