Archdeacon’s sexual abuse has lifelong impacts
Robert Oakly was about 15 or 16 when he was sexually abused by Bert Jameson.[i] At the time, Jameson was an archdeacon of the Brightwater parish in the Anglican Church’s Nelson diocese, and a scout leader in the wider Nelson area. Jameson began grooming Robert in his early teenage years. This then escalated to sexual assault and rape.
Robert, now 64, was born in the Rai Valley in Marlborough. His mother left his father when Robert was about two or three. Robert and his brother went with his mother to Tutaki where they lived with a new stepfather and four half-brothers. In 1967, when Robert was 10, the family moved to Hope, Nelson. In Hope, Robert took part in scout activities, including camps where Jameson was present. This is where the grooming began. When Robert was 15, Jameson sexually assaulted and raped him. “It was horrible ... he forced anal sex on me. I couldn’t handle it. I was screaming. He was getting angry that I was screaming.”
Jameson’s abuse has had a profound effect on the course of Robert’s life. Robert has made five suicide attempts and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The lifelong effects of the abuse, including poor mental health, low self-esteem and at times extreme anxiety, mean Robert has found it hard to stay in employment for any length of time, have a steady stream of income, be financially stable or have loving relationships. Religion has not been a possible source of comfort or guidance as Robert does not feel he could believe in God after being abused by a man of the cloth. However, Robert finds spiritual guidance and comfort in connecting with nature and his surroundings. People do not always understand why Robert finds some things hard and he has found getting help difficult as “society as a whole actually punishes you for being abused.”
Report of abuse to the State and request for help
In 2017, Robert made a complaint to Police at the suggestion of his counsellor. He found it difficult to tell his experiences to the male police officer he spoke to. Police later told him there was nothing they could do because Jameson was dead. That same year, following a suicide attempt, Robert’s doctor asked him if he was a victim of sexual abuse. When Robert said yes, his doctor arranged ACC counselling for him. Robert tried to get weekly compensation for lost income through ACC. He found the process with ACC deeply distressing, describing dealing with ACC as horrific: “it’s like being raped”.
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Robert undertook both psychiatric and psychological assessments as part of his ACC application. Both assessments required meeting with an assessor. Robert’s meeting with the psychologist was split over two days with each meeting taking many hours. Robert said the assessments were not easy: “You've got to bring it all up again, don't you? And then also, what is written about you sometimes is not quite correct ... I don't even read them ... because it's hard work.” Robert said the assessment reports found his mental impairment as a result of the abuse was 15 percent. As a result, Robert receives $20 per week from ACC for mental impairment resulting from the abuse he suffered.
ACC told Robert he was not entitled to weekly compensation for lost income because he wasn’t employed at the time, he applied to ACC. Robert said: “I went into the process hoping for weekly compensation at 80 per cent of my wages but then they said I wasn’t an earner at the time, and I’d be better off on the dole because I haven’t worked much anyway. But I hadn’t worked because of the PTSD.” Robert appealed ACC’s decision to not pay him weekly lost income compensation and to pay him only $20 per week for his mental impairment. Robert represented himself because he couldn’t afford a lawyer. He found the review process scary and difficult to work through alone.
His appeal was denied.
Robert said that throughout his experience with ACC, no one explained to him what types of assistance he might be entitled to receive. He had three different ACC case managers and had to repeat his story to each of them, which was upsetting each time. He said ACC did not think about an applicant’s mental health or disabilities, and he found the way ACC worked only made things harder for applicants who were trying to get help. Robert was grateful for the counselling, the psychiatrist and the psychologist reports, “but that doesn’t put food on the table. To live on $250 a week and to have to sell your assets is demeaning”.
Report of abuse to the Anglican Church
In September 2017, Robert reached out to the Anglican Church through the Waimea parish’s website. He told them he had been abused by Jameson and was receiving counselling for the trauma he was experiencing. Robert also told the parish he was making a complaint to Police. Robert did not know exactly what he was expecting from the church when he first contacted them – possibly an apology or medical care for his health problems, which he blames on the abuse. There was no public information available to help him know who to contact or understand from the beginning what help he might be able to get from the church including forms of redress, like an apology or financial assistance with medical bills.
The Nelson diocese’s executive secretary, acting on instructions, replied by email to Robert.[ii] Robert was told the church was appalled by Jameson’s behaviour and that he had been prosecuted for similar offences in 1978. The secretary wished Robert well and said the church would support him in their prayers. There was no enquiry about what help the church could offer, nor any acknowledgement of the church’s responsibility for the abuse and its long-term effects. The transactional reply by email also failed to treat Robert’s sensitive disclosure of abuse with the necessary consideration, respect and dignity Robert was entitled to receive.
At the inquiry’s redress hearing in 2021, the church explained that at the time Robert contacted the diocese, there were no formal redress processes or policies (or even training) in place that the secretary could have followed.[iii] The only formal process available for dealing with reports of abuse by clergy was the church’s Title D process. Title D is a disciplinary process that focuses on the actions of the abuser and does not provide help or redress for survivors other than the possibility of accountability of the abuser. At the redress hearing, Archbishop Richardson said:
“[T]here is no overarching Anglican Church policy or procedure for [abuse claims]. The focus of Title D has always been on discipline and fitness to minister. It is with regret that I have to say the focus of the Anglican Church has often been on those issues rather than on the needs of the complainant.” [iv]
Robert found the secretary’s email response unacceptable. The church had taken no responsibility for Jameson’s actions and had offered Robert nothing beyond prayers, which, as a non-believer, meant little to him. He said he “imagined them all standing around together saying, ‘today we’re going to pray for Robert Oakly, who was raped by Archdeacon Jameson’”. After Robert gave evidence at the inquiry’s public hearing in late 2020 about how the secretary’s response made him feel, the secretary made attempts to reach out to Robert to apologise.
The church’s failure to respond in any meaningful way to Robert when he reached out to them acted as a further barrier to him seeking redress from those responsible for his abuse.
Request for redress from the Anglican Church with the help of a lawyer
Unsure of what he could do next, but wanting help to do something, Robert cautiously sought legal help. Robert found having legal help in order to access the redress he was entitled to was traumatic and stressful. He said, “the process to get redress is almost actually worse than the event itself, and I wonder if it is even worth it.”
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Robert contacted Sonja Cooper of Cooper Legal to act for him. Cooper Legal had been recommended to him by support group Care Leavers Australia Network New Zealand. Cooper Legal acted for Robert through legal aid. Robert found getting into legal debt to try and get redress from the church stressful:
“It makes me really anxious and it screws my head that I have to pay legal aid to get redress. It plays on my mind all the time … I worry that I am going to lose again, and that everyone else is winning out of this and I’ve got to suffer it.”
The stress of the potential size of the legal aid debt he might owe, up to $91,000, was at times overwhelming despite knowing it could be written off.
“That stressed, maxed me right out. Like, that’s all I’ve got. It’s like if I’m fighting for justice and I was told that the Anglican Church were crap at getting anything out of, and that it might just cover costs … it made my head stir. I couldn’t think. Actually, at some stage, [I] stopped, put it on hold, I couldn’t handle the thought. You know, it’s like am I going to go and spend all my money and everything that I won for justice, come out with nothing, worse off at the end?”
Robert found the delays with the church confusing, and they added to his stress about the escalating costs of using a lawyer over years, rather than months.
“I was very confused because someone told me it would be 3-4 months then it was 3-4 years.”
In August 2019, Cooper Legal wrote to Bishop Elect Steve Maina of the Nelson diocese. Cooper Legal asked for an ex-gratia payment to Robert of $100,000, a contribution to his legal aid costs, and an apology from the church.[v] In October, Bishop Maina responded relying on legal advice to deny any responsibility, but said the church was considering what form of support or redress might be appropriate.[vi] The bishop said the church would look to the inquiry as to how it should respond to survivors such as Robert. He offered to meet Robert to discuss practical ways to help with Robert’s recovery. Cooper Legal wrote back to Bishop Maina the same month expressing concern the church was not accepting responsibility for Robert’s abuse. Cooper Legal asked if the church would consider an alternative dispute resolution.[vii]
Around this time, Cooper Legal asked Robert if there was anything the church could buy him, like a cheap car or some furniture.[viii] Robert found this suggestion insensitive and upsetting, particularly as the rape had occurred in a car. “I felt offering to buy me a car or furniture was demeaning, and it was like they were treating me like a drug addict low life.”
In March 2020, the church accepted that it was responsible, or vicariously liable, for Robert’s abuse by Jameson. The church asked for Cooper Legal’s guidance about an appropriate process for meeting with Robert to hear his experience and develop a response. In October, Cooper Legal wrote to the church about their lack of contact and the long delays in dealing with Robert’s case.[ix] In December, shortly before Robert gave evidence at the inquiry’s public hearing on faith-based redress, the church offered Robert $60,000 to settle his claim. Robert accepted the church’s offer despite feeling it did not adequately reflect the lifelong impacts of the abuse. Bishop Maina also wrote to Robert to apologise for the abuse he had suffered, for the fact Robert had been forced to approach the diocese several times to get a genuine acknowledgment of his abuse, and for the church having taken so long to deal with his claim.[x]
Part of the church’s delay in providing redress to Robert was because the church spent from August 2019 to March 2020 denying any responsibility. In 2021, Bishop Carrell explained to the inquiry the church’s possible denial of responsibility or legal liability was a tactic to deny compensation. Bishop Carrell said:
“It may have been in the past in the sense that maybe a fear that a claim would lead to monetary compensation has led to a how can we get away with paying as little as possible approach; or are we legally liable to monetary compensation, no, we're not so that's good.”[xi]
At the same hearing in 2021, Archbishop Richardson acknowledged that the church’s concerns around its liability and its recourse to lawyers, rather than relying on an established redress process, made it hard for survivors:
“When you read the evidence it has been really hard [for a survivor to get anything from the church other than an apology], and the recourse to concerns around liability, recourse to lawyers ... [W]hen you look at it evidentially in the story of people's lives, it's pretty hard to see that as a tenable approach.”[xii]
Once the church accepted it was responsible for Robert’s abuse, it then took from March to December 2020 to decide what to offer Robert as a settlement. The process for offering Robert compensation would have been much shorter if the church had a redress process that started as soon as Robert made contact. Having this redress conversation in 2017 would have prevented unnecessary stress and harm to Robert. He may not have needed to use lawyers and access legal aid to achieve an outcome. As Archbishop Richardson told in 2021: “The redress conversation ... is kind of almost brand new for us [as a church].”[xiii]
Robert’s legal costs were eventually written off by Legal Aid. Cooper Legal continues to work with Robert on other aspects of his experience.
What Robert would have liked to have happened with the Anglican Church
Robert told the inquiry in late 2020 that he would have liked a public apology from the Anglican Church, such as in the Evening Mail, to all of Jameson’s victims. Robert did not want a confidential apology, but rather one that was public and open, so as to be fair to all those abused. Robert also wanted the church to reveal how much it knew about Jameson’s other offending as he felt sure there were others.
In March 2021, Archbishop Philip Richardson delivered a public apology to Robert at the faith-based redress hearing:
“I want to speak to the evidence of Robert Oakly ... I simply don’t believe that the Church did not know. I don't understand why following conviction Archdeacon Jameson wasn’t deposed from Holy Orders and was able to continue to represent himself as a priest of the Church ... for the fact that we failed you, we failed to believe you and we failed to act against your abuser, I do apologise.”[xiv]
Archbishop Philip Richardson also met Robert in his hometown to offer a personal apology. Robert found the Archbishop’s public and personal apologies genuine and helpful in his acceptance of what had happened to him. In May 2021, the church shared with Robert the records held by the Nelson diocese about Jameson.
Robert hopes that through the actions of the inquiry there will be more awareness that men can be victims of sexual abuse, and that the Church will be exposed. He told us:
“There is not enough awareness that men can be victims of sexual abuse too. It would definitely be worthwhile to have investment in a public awareness campaign.”
Robert now wishes to put this all behind him, and to try and enjoy his retirement years knowing that the abuse by Jameson forever changed the trajectory of his life.
“There will never be closure … it’s acceptance.”
Summary and findings
In summary, we find:
- The State failed to respond adequately to Robert’s report of abuse. In particular, the Accident Compensation Corporation:
- failed to work with Robert in a trauma informed way
- failed to provide Robert with easily accessible information about the range of entitlements he may have access to
- used processes that were difficult for Robert to work through on his own
- changed Robert’s case manager multiple times which was stressful
- has not provided Robert with meaningful financial support.
- The Anglican Church failed to respond adequately to Robert’s report of abuse. In particular, the church:
- failed to respond seriously enough or in a trauma-informed way when Robert first contacted them in 2017 including offering wellbeing support
- failed to train the diocesan executive secretary in how to respond to disclosures of abuse in a trauma-informed way
- failed to implement, and make publicly accessible, redress policies or processes that empowered Robert to know who to contact and what he may be entitled to as redress
- failed to understand, and mitigate, the barriers for Robert in seeking redress from the church
- unduly delayed and attempted to avoid responsibility for Robert’s abuse
- should have readily accepted that Robert would be entitled to redress, including monetary redress, on the basis of similar sexual abuse for which Archdeacon Jameson was prosecuted and the church was aware of
- should have proactively sought out the victims of Jameson, including Robert, and proactively offered them access to support and redress
- should have offered Robert an apology earlier in the form of his choosing rather than following his evidence to the inquiry
- should have worked with Robert to try and provide him records on Archdeacon Jameson much earlier.
- Both the State and the Anglican Church used processes that were unduly long, intimidating and difficult for Robert to follow, and relied on Robert hiring lawyers to access his full entitlements.
- All of Robert’s attempts to receive the redress he was entitled to, and the support he needed, were unnecessarily traumatising and exacerbated Robert’s difficulties with mental health and outlook on life, which he feels were derailed as a result of the abuse.
Next: Emery-James Wade: Church dragged feet on priest who was known sex offender
[i] Witness Statement of Robert Oakly, WITN0055001 (Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, 4 October 2010); Transcript of evidence of Robert Oakly from Faith-based Redress Hearing Phase I, TRN0000334 (Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, 8 December 2010).
[ii] Email from Diocese of Nelson, Anglican Church, to Robert Oakly regarding Robert’s disclosure of abuse to the Anglican Church, EXT0000507 (19 September 2017).
[iii] Witness Statement of Archbishop Philip Richardson for Anglican Church, WITN0265001 (Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, 12 February 2021), p. 31.
[v] Letter from Cooper Legal to Bishop Steve Maina, Anglican Church, regarding claim and settlement offer for Robert Oakly, ANG0001373 (6 August 2019).
[vi] Letter from Bishop Steve Maina, Anglican Church, to Cooper Legal regarding claim and settlement offer for Robert Oakly, ANG0001374 (17 October 2019).
[vii] Letter from Cooper Legal to Bishop Steve Maina, Anglican Church, regarding liability of the Anglican Church for Robert Oakly’s claim, ANG0001371 (24 October 2019).
[viii] Email from Cooper Legal to Robert Oakly regarding an update on his claim with the Anglican Church, WITN0055003 (15 May 2020).
[ix] Letter from Sonja Cooper, Cooper Legal, to Wynn Williams regarding Robert Oakly, MSC0007449 (15 October 2020).
[x] Letter from Bishop Steve Maina, Anglican Church, to Robert Oakly regarding apology, ANG0019720 (4 December 2020).
[xi] Transcript of evidence of Bishop Peter Carrell for Anglican Church from Faith-based Redress Hearing Phase II, TRN0000341 (Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, 18 March 2021), p. 330.
[xii] Transcript of evidence of Archbishop Philip Richardson for Anglican Church from Faith-based Redress Hearing Phase II, TRN0000343 (Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, 22 March 2021), p. 418.
[xiii] Ibid., pp. 418-419.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 405.