NOT A VICTIM ANY MORE
By HELEN JACK email@example.com ROBERT GAMBLEY kept his secret for more than 30 years. "And it nearly cost me my life," he said.
A victim of sexual abuse, the 49-year-old from Casino is now free of the shame he felt, and wants to help all victims of sexual abuse to tell their truth by telling his own story.
The abuse happened while Robert was a student at Bonalbo High School in the 1970s when he turned to a teacher he trusted to help him understand the struggles he faced at home as his family tried to deal with a crisis and a crippling drought.
Instead the teacher, Peter John Edwards, betrayed him using Robert's emotional frailty and naivety to seduce him.
Robert describes himself as an innocent country boy when he went to Mr Edwards to ask for help.
"He was a very approachable teacher. The students used to call him PJ," he said.
"It's haunted me all my life.
"I handed it to him because I asked him not to tell my family that I had confided in him about our family problems."
After many years of counselling and healing his sense of shame over the abuse, it was a conversation with an old school friend who told him Edwards had become a school principal, that prompted him to act.
"I thought then he can't get away with abusing other children," he said.
"That's when I got in touch with Victims Services." Robert contacted police about the abuse, first in February 1997, but did not feel strong enough to continue with his complaint.
But then in January last year, after many years of intense counselling he felt emotionally and physically strong enough to follow through his complaint.
And follow it through he did, all the way to Lismore District Court.
On December 11, Edwards, who now lives in Leeton, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to weekend detention for two years and three months with a non-parole period of nine months.
On hearing Judge Black's decision all tension in Robert's straight back melted away as he leant forward in his seat cradling his face in his hands, tears in his eyes.
A friend stroked his back as she whispered congratulations in his ear.
Robert was not alone in his fight, surrounded by family and friends they left the courtroom as if walking on air.
"I feel vindicated," said Robert. "I have had a massive dose of healing medicine.
"He did not get away with it. "I was just a country boy when it happened but now it was man-to-man, it was a fair and square fight and I won and hopefully he won't harm other children."
The two incidents of sexual abuse Edwards pleaded guilty to occurred over an 11-month period, the first camping on his family's farm, Ferndale, in November 1975, and the second during a trip to Sydney in October 1976.
In a statement he read to court, Robert said trusting Edwards was a tragic mistake.
"The sexual abuse that took place at Ferndale in 1975 has haunted me all my life," he said.
"I was disgusted by what happened. I did not plan it. I did not want it to happen.
"Mr Edwards was my science teacher and I felt he had power over me.
"I feel that Mr Edwards fouled my sacred place in the worst possible manner.
"My late father did not want me to associate with Mr Edwards in the first place. He was right. I was terribly wrong. It is a great regret I have to live with for the rest of my life.
"I was a naive country boy. That innocence was cruelly taken away from me by Mr Edwards. I did it because he told me to.
"I have come to realise that I have tried to cope with the fact of this sexual abuse through the pursuit of ultra-expressions of masculinity.
"I had to be macho to subvert the feelings of being degraded by the sexual abuse. In the late 1970s I drank heavily, experimented with drugs and rode my Honda 750 motorbike with reckless abandon. Risk-taking behaviour that could have resulted in death and therefore end the pain.
"I have also suffered from depression and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The abuse had impacted on my ability to form more meaningful relationships. I have never married or experienced the joy of having, caring and loving children of my own."
Robert said during his relationship with Edwards he felt he could never fight back because, as a student of Edwards, he felt the teacher had power over him.
After he left school, Robert said he drifted from job to job, never wishing to settle.
He drank heavily and took drugs until 10 years ago when he began counselling to deal with his burden.
"The secret is over. Now I'll be free."