The Project’s Peter van Onselen’s revelation that he was sexually assaulted as a child was the first time he’d told anyone outside of his closest confidantes, Daily Mail Australia can reveal.
The painful disclosure by the TV political commentator emerged during a brutal Twitter spat with former Australian of the Year and sex abuse advocate, Grace Tame – who is understood to have briefly blocked him in the wake of their spat.
Van Onselen, 45, first revealed last October that he had been targeted by a child molesting teacher during a school trip in 1989. In a newspaper column for The Australian, he initially downplayed his experiences and stressed at the time that he had not been sexually abused.
But in the midst of the Twitter row with Ms Tame, 27, he revealed publicly for the first time that he had actually been molested.
TV political pundit Peter van Onselen’s revelation that he was sexually assaulted as a child was the first time he’d told anyone outside of his very closest confidantes
He revealed on Twitter for the first time publicly that he had been molested by a teacher
‘The police knew of three other boys he raped who didn’t want to testify. I was one of them,’ he tweeted.
‘You have made me say this which is incredibly distressing but there you go…Please stop.’
The alleged attack on van Onselen occurred early on a Year 8 interstate school coach trip from NSW to Western Australia via South Australia.
Although the teacher was convicted of molesting three children, three others were also assaulted, allegedly including van Onselen, who was 13 at the time.
The teacher ordered the boys on the trip not to wear underwear in bed as ‘it cuts off the circulation’.
The predator would run his hands up and down the young boys’ legs in their sleeping bag to check they were naked before assaulting some of them.
‘I was targeted because back then I was shy and quiet,’ van Onselen revealed previously. ‘Just the sort of kid the literature tells us predators go after.’
All the boys who were abused were the same, wrote van Onselen.
Van Onselen was believed to be young and naive at the time when the teacher launched the attack on him while the school group was in Dubbo, early in the trip.
The Project analyst’s painful disclosure came out during a fiery Twitter spat with former Australian of the Year and sex abuse advocate, Grace Tame
‘I really didn’t understand what was going on,’ he wrote previously. ‘There was no sexual assault awareness training at school.
‘No talks about what the signs were to look out for.’
Other boys were also molested days later in South Australia, and a police investigation was later launched.
Several families were keen to push criminal charges and civil actions over the incidents, but van Onselen and two other victims didn’t want to testify in court.
In the end, the teacher pleaded guilty, sparing all his victims from having to appear in the witness box and relive their ordeals.
But van Onselen’s own experience has been kept a family secret for decades since.
Outside of police, only a tight few knew of the assault until his late night Twitter revelation. ‘My parents weren’t exactly at the vanguard of socially awkward conversations on such topics,’ he admitted last year.
‘I didn’t even tell them about what happened, much less talk to friends about it. Masculine silence, even at that age.’
In his newspaper column about his experience, van Onselen had previously himself on the public record as saying: ‘To be very clear from the outset, I was not sexually abused, I am one of the lucky ones.’
He recanted that last night, during his debate with Tame, saying that he had simply not wanted to disclose his personal experience.
Van Onselen (pictured here with his wife Ainslie) declined to discuss his experience any further, but is understood to be shocked by Ms Tame’s reaction to his confession
On Friday, van Onselen declined to discuss his experience any further but friends say the last year has been triggering for him in the context of his childhood experiences.
In the wake of the bitter row, which saw Ms Tame delete an offer to counsel van Onselen, it is understood she blocked the journalist on Twitter, before later unblocking him.
Van Onselen is understood to be shocked by Ms Tame’s reaction to his confession.
‘This was one of the biggest days of his life, to reveal something like this publicly,’ said a source, who added that he was ‘disappointed’ by the stoush.
In response to media reporting about her stoush, Tame tweeted that van Onselen ‘instigated the whole exchange’.
She has also accused him of ‘manipulating’ the situation, and argued that she was going off his own, previous public statement that he had not been assaulted.
‘I have not shamed you, not once,’ she said. ‘I’m not denying the trauma of what you went through, just your integrity and intent.’
Professor Gemma Carey sparked a legal row with a nine word tweet about an old picture of Christian Porter (left) and his university mates Dr Nick Coatsworth (centre, left) and Professor Peter van Onselen, centre right with wife Ainslie, centre
Van Onselen came under fire for standing by Mr Porter when the ex-Cabinet minister was accused of historical rape allegations which he strongly denied.
Van Onselen was also at the centre of a legal row with Professor Gemma Carey after she made an allegedly defamatory tweet alleging he was a threat to his wife under an old photograph.
The picture showed van Onselen and his wife-to-be Ainslie in their university days, alongside friends including Mr Porter and future Australian deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth.
In the ensuing row, Ms Tame helped launch a fund for Prof Carey to fight van Onselen’s subsequent legal action.
He was later embroiled in another clash with Ms Tame over his comments about her stony-faced encounter with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the final day of her reign as Australian of the Year.
Van Onselen was embroiled in another clash with Ms Tame over his comments about her stony-faced encounter with Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Van Onselen is also at the centre of a lawsuit against Network Ten by political reporter Tegan George who claims there was a toxic bullying culture at their Canberra bureau.
Last month, Ms George’s solicitor revealed she would also be adding a discrimination claim to the lawsuit.
On Thursday night, van Onselen tweeted: ‘Sorry I haven’t been prepared to be public about the real details of what happened to me.
‘Not everyone wants to fully share.’
He replied to Ms Tame: ‘What was done to me is something I take seriously even if you don’t.
‘I have tried to approach you about it before to explain but you haven’t responded, not once.’
Friends of van Onselen say the last year has been triggering for him in the context of his childhood experiences
Friends said van Onselen was reluctant to discuss his experiences because, despite his television persona, he shuns the spotlight.
‘He’s a very private person off screen and out of politics,’ said one. ‘He doesn’t socialise much, he doesn’t even go out for coffee very often.
‘Away from politics, he really doesn’t like the limelight. He doesn’t want to talk about any of this, for the impact it may have on his children.
‘But under the circumstances, he felt he needed to clarify his situation.’
On Friday morning, Ms Tame responded to the row with a fresh take on the debate.
On Friday morning, Ms Tame responded to the row with a fresh take on the debate
‘Every survivor of rape and abuse deserves to be heard and receive compassion,’ she tweeted. ‘Every single one. Trauma, however, doesn’t excuse bad behaviour.
‘It is not a weapon of provocation or oneupmanship to deploy in the face of others at your convenience, especially not fellow survivors.’
Thursday night’s row blew up after the pair clashed online over another tweet by Prof Carey about her family GP.
After Prof Carey tweeted about a row with her doctor, van Onselen replied: ‘When your long term family GP decides to ban you from their clinic is that a sign you’re a complete pain in the arse?’
That is when Ms Tame chimed in.
‘When you victimise a vulnerable person, that’s a pretty good sign too,’ Ms Tame replied.
Tame responded to van Onselen’s tweet directed at a professor who he has shared a combative past with on social media
That sparked a very heated back-and-forth, with van Onselen digging up old wounds from when the professor had insulted his wife in the past.
‘That’s how I felt when, as a survivor myself of child sexual abuse (he was convicted), she accused me of being a threat to my wife,’ the journalist responded to Tame.
‘Unfortunately you then helped her raise money when I had the temerity to ask her to apologise. Thanks for all your support.’
Ms Tame then fired back.
‘If you’re going to tell me your story Peter, I’ll listen. I’ve got all day. We both know what you wrote in The Australian about being nearly abused,’ she fired back.
A legal furore broke out after University of New South Wales Professor Gemma Carey (pictured with husband Ben O’Mara) made her nine word comment on the pic
Van Onselen objected to Professor Carey’s tweet directed at him and his wife from several years ago
‘I was molested at six and raped more times than I care to tell you. If there’s more I don’t know, let’s hear it.’
She then deleted that tweet and replaced it with another, accusing van Onselen of lacking integrity and ‘co-opting’ the stories of other victims.
‘He was convicted, but not of crimes against you. Co-opting other survivors experiences is a whole new low, mate,’ she said.
‘Especially to undermine an actual paedophilia and multiple rape survivor. I’m not denying the trauma of what you went through, just your integrity and intent.’
An incensed van Onselen shot back, saying it was not her place to be demanding he share more details of his own trauma.
‘Sorry I haven’t been prepared to be public about the real details of what happened to me. Not everyone wants to fully share,’ he replied.
‘You have made me say this which is incredibly distressing but there you go. The police knew of three other boys he raped who didn’t want to testify. I was one of them. Please stop.
‘Thank you for deleting that tweet I responded to where you downplayed what happened to me,’ Ten’s political editor said.
‘Leave me alone,’ she replied, before attempting again to end the argument.
‘Peter. You poked fun at Gemma. I came to her defence. Then you leveraged your trauma, repeatedly, to provoke me.
‘You know full well what you are doing. You started the whole thing. Take responsibility for your actions.’
Van Onselen ended up sharing details of his abuse that were ‘incredibly distressing’, before Tame told him to ‘leave me alone’
The very public argument then continued as Ms Tame shared a screenshot from his column about his schoolboy experience in which he said: ‘Let me be very clear from the outset, I was not sexually abused’.
‘I was going off your own words, Peter. You are responsible for when and what you publicly disclose, not me. I ask again that you please leave me alone now,’ she added.
Van Onselen then responded: ‘As I said I didn’t want to share my experience, but your attempt to shame me was so triggering I couldn’t let that stand, so I have had to do so. As I asked, please stop’.
The ugly Twitter battle finally ended when Tame accused him of ‘manipulating this entire situation’.
The disagreement saw hundreds of replies from shocked Twitter users, some of who took Ms Tame’s side in the dispute.
‘He keeps using his experience to justify his attacks on other people,’ one user said of van Onselen.
‘You seem very definitive in the extract that she attached that you were not abused, so I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to have not taken your own words at face value,’ another wrote.
An incensed van Onselen said he wasn’t ready to ‘fully share’ the details of his abuse, before noting she had deleted her previous tweet
Others sided with the Ten journalist however, saying the thread ‘read like an ambush’.
‘Please take care of yourselves, this is a highly charged discussion and becoming more personal by the tweet. Embrace your loved ones and have a calm night,’ another Twitter user said calmly.
Van Onselen’s dispute with Prof. Carey goes back to when she posted an old picture of Prof. van Onselen and his wife Ainslie alongside former Australian deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth and former Liberal MP Christian Porter during their days at the University of Western Australia.
A legal furore broke out after University of New South Wales Professor Carey made her nine-word comment on the pic.
Her reply referred to the women in the photograph, which then sparked the threat of defamation actions from Mr Porter and Professor van Onselen.
Prof Carey was hit with three legal notices in one email after making the jibe.
The notices all arrived in the same email from the same high-profile lawyer, Rebekah Giles, who has previously represented Mr Porter, as well as Brittany Higgins and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
Prof Carey deleted the tweet and apologised online to Mr Porter and Prof van Onselen for her reply about the photograph. Dr Coatsworth has not been involved in the legal row.
‘On 24th October 2021, I commented on a photograph of Peter van Onselen when he was at university with others & that comment was completely inappropriate & highly offensive and I should never have published it,’ she tweeted.
‘It has now been deleted and I unconditionally withdraw my comment and apologise to Mr van Onselen for the hurt caused to him and his wife by my conduct.’