My wedding celebrant abused me

Steve Fisher, 57, from Devonport, Tasmania shares his real-life story of how his life was destroyed after he was abused by a priest.
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Father Garth Hawkins, 32, switched off 
the motor on his speedboat.

He was a priest at the parish of East Devonport, Tasmania and had invited the local teenage boys out for a fishing trip. My school mates had met him while playing badminton at the church hall.

It was 1979, and I was 13 years old.

As the boys cast their lines, Hawkins approached me.

“What’s your dad do, Steve?” he asked.

Me in the cadets when I was 14. (image: Supplied)

My dad, Ted, had left when I was five, leaving my mum, Annette, to raise my siblings and me.

“I haven’t got a dad,” I told Hawkins.

His face lit up.

I was overcome with seasickness but when we returned to the rectory, Hawkins handed me a beer.

“This’ll settle your tummy,” he explained.

Mum’d never let me do this, I thought taking a sip.

“My mum’s pretty strict,” 
I told the priest.

“I’d like to meet her,” he responded.

That week, he came over to introduce himself to Mum.

“He’s charming,” she said to me afterwards. “It’ll be good for you to spend 
time with him.”

Hangouts with Hawkins became frequent. He’d take us boys on boat trips, hunting or snorkelling.

Sometimes, it’d just be the two of us and he’d buy me gifts, like a wetsuit and goggles. I felt like I was his favourite.

Me with Father Garth Hawkins at my wedding. (Image: Supplied)

Over time, Hawkins got more familiar with me.

“Geez, you’ve got a nice little arse,” he’d remark, smacking my bum.

“Get stuffed you dirty old man!” I’d quip.

I didn’t like it when he touched me, but I had no other father figure for comparison.

It must be what all dads do with their kids, I assumed.

Father Hawkins had 
a reputation at school and other kids warned me to stay away from him. But I was convinced he was a good guy. After all, he was a priest.

Whenever he was drunk though, I remained on high alert as he’d try to sneak up and grab my genitals.

At school, I felt like an adult in a kid’s world, and I went from an A-grade student to the class clown.

Halfway through Year 9, I dropped out. Soon after, Hawkins was transferred by the diocese to Triabunna on the east coast.

“Why doesn’t Steve come live with me,” he suggested to Mum. “I’ll help find him a job.”

“Great idea!” Mum said, fully trusting him.

She did everything she could to provide good opportunities for us.

Hawkins got me work at 
a fish factory and didn’t mind when I brought mates home – he even encouraged it.

Every perk of my life at the rectory had a dark underside I couldn’t comprehend.

Hawkins would let me drive his HQ Holden through the paddock next door, but only if I sat on his lap first and let him rub my stomach.

Garth Hawkins at his home (Image: Supplied)

At night, he’d beg me to come to bed with him, but 
I always refused.

Once, I came home to 
find him hosting a booze-up with 10 other blokes from 
the ministry.

One of them approached me in the kitchen.

“Why don’t we go up to 
the bedroom and have 
a play?” he slurred.

I told him to get stuffed.

“Oh that’s right, you’ve been Garth’s boy for years,” he smiled. It sounded to me like Hawkins had been telling the other priests that he was having sex with me.

He’s not a great guy at all! 
I finally accepted. I need to get out of here.

I moved back to Devonport soon after and cut all ties with Hawkins. Desperate to move on from that chapter of my life, I kept silent about Hawkins’ actions.

It wasn’t until 1996, aged 30, that we reconnected when I asked him to be 
my wedding celebrant.

I believe now this was a subconscious desire to show him he hadn’t stopped me turning out okay.

After the service, I gave him a bottle of scotch as a thank you gift. He drank half of it before the reception.

I cringed when my mate invited him to make a speech.

“I met Steve before he had any pubic hair,” Hawkins slurred into the microphone.

My guests went into stunned silence.

Me living my life as best as I can. (Image: Supplied)

“I used to wonder if he took his jeans to the fitter,” he continued, “they were always so tight around his arse!”

My dad, who’d since come back into my life, rushed up to me afterwards.

“What did he do to you?” he asked me, alarmed.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” I assured him.

But I began to wonder if my time with Hawkins was connected to the PTSD I’d battled since my youth.

My mum wanted the best life for us (Image: Supplied)

Sadly, this PTSD persisted, and I was unable to make my marriage last beyond a year.

After the separation, I told a close friend about Hawkins.

“You could always speak to the police about it,” she said.

When I did, my sole testimony wasn’t considered enough for an arrest.

The media, however, caught wind of my story and wanted to tell it. To share my story publicly, I had to fight a law which prevented victims being named.

I can’t let Hawkins take away my voice again, I thought.

Me with my fiance, Wanny. (Image: Supplied)

Successfully gaining an exemption, my story went public and other survivors who’d been abused by Hawkins came forward. Some were guys I’d brought to the house.

I felt devastated.

In 2003, with seven complainants, aged 13 to 17 at the time, Hawkins was arrested in South Australia.

The following year, Garth Stephen Hawkins, 58, pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault, three counts of sexual intercourse with a young person under the age of 17, four counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person, and two counts of having carnal knowledge against the order of nature.

He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail, where he went on to change his name by deed poll to Robin Goodfellow.

Father Hawkins dressed up for a costume party (Image: Supplied)

The court process brought vindication of my trauma, but the sentence seemed minor compared to the lives he’d destroyed.

That year, I established an organisation, Beyond Abuse, to provide survivors with therapy and legal advice I wish I’d received sooner to bring perpetrators like Hawkins to justice.

Since then, I’ve met my fiancée Wanny, and helped many survivors fight suppression orders so they can get their voice back.

Sadly, paedophiles are 
still among us. But when survivors share their stories, it educates communities 
on the warning signs of grooming and abuse.

By learning these, you may save another child from having their life destroyed.

For support, call 1800 737 732 (Aust) or 0800 88 33 00 (NZ).

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