Real Life

The sexual abuse case that changed this Aussie lawyer’s life

Stephen Roche helped a survivor win a landmark Australian case. Now it’s being released as a movie, featuring an all-star cast.

We’re eagerly awaiting the release of powerful new film Don’t Tell, which is being hailed as Australia’s answer to Spotlight.
It follows a landmark child abuse case in Toowoomba, Qld, which became the catalyst for improved childcare safeguards.
Based on lawyer Stephen Roche’s book of the same name, the film is the true story of 22-year-old child abuse survivor Lyndal. She took on the Anglican Church and Toowoomba Prepatory School in 2001 after she was repeatedly sexually abused by her boarding house master as a student in 1990.
Despite speaking out, her cries fell on deaf ears for 11 years before she contacted lawyer Stephen Roche.
Roche, who’s also an executive producer of the film, says making it was an emotional experience for all.
“Because it was a true story and such an emotional story, occasionally we brought Lyndal [the abuse survivor] onto set,” Roche tells The Weekly.
“She mingled with the cast and crew and what not and they all seemed to go up a gear. They seemed to really understand what they were doing was worthwhile and meaningful. It wasn’t just like ‘look we’re making a horror film’ which was really interesting.”
The film attracted an impressive Aussie cast, including Rachel Griffiths as a psychologist who counsels Lyndal (played by newcomer Sara West), along with Susie Porter and Martin Sacks as Lyndal's parents. Aden Young plays Stephen Roche, with Jack Thompson appearing as Lyndal's barrister, while Jacqueline McKenzie takes on the role of the barrister for the school and church.
Roche revealed Rachel Griffiths in particular was affected by the gritty and upsetting true story:
“She had done a lot of research and had spoken to the journalist who had covered the trial who’s a bit of a crusader in abuse matters and she was right across the topic. She’s a very deep thinker and wanted to really do justice to the role - which she did.”
Doing justice to the story was something Roche was incredibly passionate about, having taken on arguably the most important sexual abuse civil trial in Australian history. But he says there was only one opinion that mattered: Lyndal’s.
“I think Lyndal watching it for the very first time from start to finish was my absolute height of [my] anxiety,” Roche says.
“She watched it privately with the producer and with Jodie, the other young lawyer at the time – they’ve remained friends. I didn’t go anywhere near [the viewing] but she sent me a text saying we’d nailed it.”
As well as being one of the catalysts for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Lyndal’s incredible courage and fight helped other victims come forward.
“It was just a phenomenon,” Roche remembers. “There were certainly more victims coming forward. It gives people permission to speak out. I mean, I grew up in an era when children were to be seen and not heard and unfortunately many abuse sufferers adopted that policy to their graves.”
Luckily, Lyndal fought against the institutional abuse, and won.
“It makes you angry, it makes you sad, it makes you feel brave,” Roche promises of the film.
Brought to you by Don’t Tell, premiering on May 18 around the country.

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