John Saunders, author of
John Saunders, author of "Sexual abuse survivor's handbook" will be keynote speaker at a forum on child abuse at the Byron Community Centre. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Child abuse survivor to speak at Byron Bay forum

A BYRON Bay man who survived years of childhood abuse within Catholic schools in Sydney will tomorrow be the keynote speaker at a forum on child abuse to be held at the Byron Bay Community Centre.

John Saunders, who has written a book about his experiences called Sexual Abuse Survivor's Handbook, will also be giving evidence next week at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.


Mr Saunders, 52, was first sexually abused as an 11-year-old by his Grade 6 Marist Brothers teacher, and later, while at a Marist high school, underwent years of physical and psychological abuse by another teacher, including whippings.

As an adult he took the church to court and in 1998 Mr Saunders received an ex-gratia payment of $55,000, but the church denied any legal liability. Mr Saunders now describes the money as a "hush" payment, and says the church's cover-up of abuse has been "sinister".

For the past 13 years he has been fighting the church all the way to Cardinal George Pell, to have the psychologist's reports from that 1998 case released in order to pursue a separate duty-of-care case against the church

"It really is sinister," he said. "I hate injustice. We know (abuse) occurred, we know it's a criminal offence, but we still have an institution hiding that.

"Hiding it is also a crime."

Earlier this year he was finally allowed to see the psychologist report, an excerpt of which reads: "It appears Mr Saunders was 'groomed' over time to become the teacher's pet. The teacher would invite 'favoured students' to approach his desk and sit on his lap. With Saunders, he would 'place his hand in his trousers, fondle his penis, blow into his ear and kiss him. This took place once to twice daily over a period of eight months".

Mr Saunders believes it is vital to break the silence surrounding sexual abuse.

"I feel compelled to tell my story to help other victims," he said. "It's part of my healing too - to break the taboos."

The Byron Bay forum is open to the public.


'Child Abuse & Community' …a case study on institutional sexual abuse is on tomorrow, Thursday, November 28, 7-10pm at Byron Theatre.

Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson presents a panel of five professionals in the fields of Health, Law and Relationships to reflect on the case of abuse survivor John Saunders.

Entry costs $15 (12 years and over only)