Warning: Distressing content
Eleven former staff – including tutors, house and scoutmasters and a priest – have been charged as part of the investigation into historical sexual abuse at Auckland’s Dilworth School. The Herald can today reveal the real number of people who allegedly abused students is far higher – and many were pupils themselves.
Dilworth student Eoin Duncan was only 9 when an older student tried to rape him in small, windowless room after he’d finished having a shower.
He was scared and in pain and when the door suddenly opened and another student looked in and saw them he hoped help had arrived.
But, like with so much of the historic abuse at the private Auckland boarding school, he says the door simply shut again.
No one came to his rescue and when found the courage to tell his housemaster later that night he was threatened with the cane and sent back to his bed.
Duncan (not his real name) is one of more than 100 former students who have gone to police with allegations of abuse as part of Operation Beverly – the investigation into historic sexual abuse at Dilworth.
So far 11 men, including former staff, tutors, a Chaplin, house and scoutmasters, have been charged for abuse that occurred between the 1970s and early 2000s.
READ MORE: Eleven men have been charged but the number of abusers at Dilworth is much, much higher.
But, what has not been so widely reported is the fact the abuse was also carried out by other students, and it predated the 1970s.
Duncan was sent to Dilworth in 1965 when his mother became ill and wasn’t able to look after him properly.
It was “horrid” right from the start.
There was bullying – things like being slapped on the calf muscle, hit on the feet with a stick and pushed back and forward between a group of older students.
There was also an unspoken “code of silence” which meant you didn’t tell anyone what was happening or you’d land yourself in even more trouble.
“If you pimped you would get a hiding or worse. You couldn’t pimp.”
With no real friends or support Duncan spent most of his time trying to blend into the background.
“I learnt very early to keep your head low and keep your mouth shut and not to be noticed. Bullying was endemic.
“There was always that threat of violence hanging over you – from other students, tutors and house masters – of being caned for the slightest transgression so you lived in a state of fear.”
While there had been bullying in his early days, things became a lot worse when he moved school houses – “that’s where things escalated”.
Duncan was coming out of the “infamous” communal shower block one evening when a senior student commented on his body.
“I was walking out of the entrance way to where we finished drying off. One of the senior boys was there and as I walked past him he stopped me and said to me ‘you have got a great physique’.
Like many juniors who felt alone and were missing family, any kind of attention, especially from a teacher or senior student, was flattering.
“I actually felt quite proud that someone was saying something nice to me.”
Several days later the same senior student was waiting for Duncan again when he finished his shower.
“He engaged in conversation with me, along the lines of my physique again. Then he just started being friendly to me. I felt really pleased that someone was paying attention to me, especially a senior.
“I didn’t realise then but of course, he was grooming me.”
The next time the student saw Duncan coming out of the shower things escalated.
“He said he wanted me to come with him and being a senior pupil at the school you did it. You didn’t argue with them because you’d get the fist, the bash.”
So Duncan followed the student out of the shower block, down the corridor, past the Sunday lockers and into a small windowless drying room.
“He invited me to sit down next to him and started talking to me about our private parts.”
The student then coached a naive Duncan on how to commit an indecent act on him.
“I wasn’t scared but I felt uneasy about it but because he was telling me what to do I figured it must be okay.”
The next time it happened Duncan was left feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
“I didn’t look forward to having a shower in case he was there.”
He even took to showering on the other side of the block in the hope of avoiding the senior student, but he was persistent.
“I came out and I was there. I said to him ‘no, I don’t want to go’. He took my hand and pulled me with him along that corridor and into that room. This time there wasn’t…any niceties.”
The senior student grabbed Duncan and tried several times to rape him.
“I was getting freaked out by it and wondering what the hell was going on.
“I was nine years old and I didn’t know what sex was.”
At one stage they were interrupted.
“The door opened and another senior boy looked in and saw what was going on. He didn’t say anything. He just closed the door and walked away.”
The senior student who was abusing Duncan eventually got up and left the room, leaving him alone and upset.
“I was distressed and hurting and he just left.”
That night Duncan lay crying in his bed – scared, confused and still in pain.
“Back then lots of boys cried. They cried because they were homesick, because they were being beaten up, because of the same thing that was happening to me. You didn’t ask, boys just cried.”
Eventually, he got up out of bed and went to tell his housemaster what had happened.
“I went down the stairs thinking he’s my housemaster, he will look after me.”
But the reaction was anything but supportive or caring.
“I knocked on his door and went into his office and was bawling my eyes out. I told him what that senior pupil was doing to me and he told me off and told me that I was lying and to go back to my bed immediately and if he heard me talking about what had happened to anybody again he would cane me within an inch of my life.”
Shocked, he returned to his bed and withdrew into himself.
He did everything to avoid the student after that and when he wasn’t in class he hid in the trees near the boundary of the school until it was time for bed.
“I feared that he would tell other boys what he was able to do to me and they would do it too.
“I used to hide until it was time for bed. I did that for a good number of months, every bloody day, until I realised that guy wasn’t interested in me anymore.”
When Duncan’s parents came for Sunday visits he started begging to leave.
In 1967, with his mother’s health on the mend, that finally happened – Duncan was free of the school and able to move back home with her.
“I was thankful as hell of being free of that place.”
But, he left with his life forever changed.
He kept his secret until he was 18. However, when he started trying to tell his mother what happened she quickly shut him down.
It wasn’t until his mid-30s, when he saw a counsellor, that his secret was finally revealed.
He said he left the session feeling like he was “walking on air”.
“A weight had lifted off my shoulders. But, the next day and the next day it began to settle back on me.”
The impact of the abuse, and lack of support from the school, has had a lasting impact on him.
He’s had a distrust of people, especially men, and struggled to have real friendships. He describes portraying what was almost a persona of a person he thought others would like, rather than showing them his real self.
“As long as I can remember I enveloped myself in a cloak. I was always anxious, I was depressed. I thought the whole of the world was my enemy and all of the people in it.
“When someone was being demonstratively nice to me I always thought ‘what do they want?’.”
“The consequences of that was my relationships with people we always uncertain ones because they were engaging with a person who didn’t really exist, it was that persona.
“The common thread throughout my whole life was unhappiness, loneliness and dissociation of everything.”
Then, in September 2020 his world changed.
Police announced they had been investigating historic abuse at Dilworth for 18 months and had arrested several men.
“I opened the paper and I thought Oh My God and I lifted the paper up and put it on the floor. The photographs, the headline. I couldn’t believe it, something I hid for so long was shouting at me from the pages of the NZ Herald.”
“My brain was trying to come to terms with this, something I hid for so long.”
Once the shock subsided he went to police, who were not only kind, caring and sensitive. More importantly, they also believed him.
Duncan also took advantage of the free counselling service Dilworth has provided and found tools to help him deal with the abuse he suffered as a child.
His life has changed dramatically since, to the point friends – who aren’t aware of the abuse – have noticed a real positive difference in him.
“I have been able to leave that persona behind. The counsellor has given me the tools to learn to appreciate and love myself and realise I’m a good guy.”
There is however a lot of “hurt still there”.
“What doesn’t change is the complicity, the involvement of Dilworth School in all of what’s happened,” he said.
Duncan believes his experience in telling his housemaster was “repeated hundreds if not thousands of times at that school”.
He says there are several burning questions the school hasn’t answered, despite having been proactive in working with police on Operation Beverly.
“How was it Dilworth School was so disconnected that they had absolutely no empathy whatsoever to the extent they not only ignored, but actively discouraged, the boys from speaking with the threat of caning?”
Duncan said police have spoken to the senior boy who abused him, but have not yet laid any charges.
“He didn’t remember my name but said to the police that he admitted getting boys to do this to him but it was the culture of the school at the time.”
For now, Duncan is taking things day by day. He’s following the cases before the court and the Class Action which is seeking redress for the abuse.
He’s also focused on moving forward.
“I will never forget and forgive Dilworth School and what happened to me there, but at the same time I’m coming to terms with what I have had to live with for the last 55 years.”
His advice to anyone else who was abused is to go to police who he describes as “100 per cent supportive and encouraging”.
He also encourages survivors to get help dealing with the trauma, saying it has changed his life for the better.
“Get help because through the counselling it has enabled me to know, love and understand the person who I always have been but was hidden from me.”
Where to get help:
Old Boys wanting to access the free and confidential Listening Service set up by the school can email [email protected]
Victim Support 0800 842 846
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 – 0
Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.
Mosaic – Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94
Anyone with more information about the abuse at Dilworth can contact police on (09) 302 6624 or by emailing [email protected]
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