Alexander was eight years old when he was sent to a Catholic boys’ home in regional Victoria, operated by the Christian Brothers. He’d been a state ward since he was an infant in the early 1950s, and this was the fifth institution he’d lived in. His older brother was there too, but left soon after as he was too old to be in care.
At the orphanage, Alexander met a man nicknamed Lucky. He doesn’t know what this man’s role was, but remembers he didn’t wear robes like the Brothers.
Once Alexander’s brother left, Lucky began grooming him – chatting to him in the playground, giving him lollies, and letting him sit in the projection room during movie nights.
When Alexander was nine, he was moved to another Christian Brothers orphanage. After a short while Lucky appeared there, and again took a special interest in him.
‘He suggested that I should go to the room in which he resided within the orphanage so he could give me lollies and allow me to watch television. It was at this juncture that he started to make subtle sexual molestation advances upon me.
‘At first he would hold my hand or rub my legs but after a period of several weeks doing this he progressed his repugnant cravings and suggested that I should allow him to touch my penis. I can recall refusing the request until he made subtle threats to report me and inform the head Brother.’
Lucky used various tactics to ensure Alexander complied with his demands. These included ‘friendship to make me feel special, important and wanted’, ‘gifts of lollies, small amounts of money, and television time’ and ‘subtle or direct threats of informing’.
Over a two year period, he was subjected to Lucky’s ‘continuous and explicit demands’. These included being forced to perform oral sex (‘whereby on many occasions I became extremely nauseated’), to masturbate Lucky, and to walk around naked on the rooftop performing lurid acts.
‘He would lay naked on top of me and go through the motions of having sexual intercourse with me ... I attempted to push him off as I verged on passing out from lack of air as he smothered me with his naked body, restricting my ability to breath.’
Alexander decided to first report the abuse to the resident priest, as the Brothers were very violent towards the boys. ‘His response was for me to go to confession to admit I was the perpetrator of the sin, to take ownership of the sin and to ask for forgiveness.’ Alexander felt ‘very confused, disappointed’ by this reaction.
When he told the head Christian Brother two months later, he was instructed to take down his trousers and bend over the desk – and was terrified the Brother was about to sexually abuse him too. ‘I was nearly in panic ... my mind just raced. The next thing I know, I caught a glimpse of him grabbing his strap.’
The Brother belted him six times, ‘then told me to never discuss what I had told him with any other person’. This made Alexander ‘very angry, deeply hurt. I remember I was severely angry to get that result. I wasn’t expecting it’.
The abuse stopped around a month after this. ‘My mind just went into total lockdown then, and I can’t even recall what happened to the person, whether he was still at the orphanage ... I just shut down.’
After leaving institutional care, Alexander couldn’t settle down – ‘you’ve got no direction, you’ve got no ideas of how the outside world operates ... You were just left to the wolves’.
He attempted suicide a number of times. ‘In my mid-20s I came to the realisation that if I were to survive I would have to recalibrate my life.’
While working full time, he began doing night school to complete his secondary education, progressing to university and postgraduate studies. He had a successful career, including senior management roles and consulting work.
‘The large study program and heavy employment workload kept my mind focused for long periods of time but on occasions the memories that I was trying to escape would come back to deeply haunt me.’
Around five years ago Alexander visited the orphanage, and told one of the workers he had been abused there. They recommended he contact the Catholic Church about compensation. He does not want to have to ask anything of the Church, nor does he trust it to even believe the abuse occurred, so never spoke to them.
The impacts of the abuse have intensified as Alexander has gotten older. ‘This emotional rollercoaster has been predominantly more pronounced since retiring from full-time work and having to readjust and adapt to a new chapter of my life.’
The publicity regarding the commission brought back many bad memories, but seeing survivors sharing their stories also made him want to stand up and support them.
It is only in the last year that he has fully disclosed the abuse to anyone as an adult, and his GP, psychologist and brother are now aware. ‘I frequently contemplate, if I was deprived of their support, encouragement and understanding how would I have confronted and managed the deep distress I felt during this phase of my life.’
He found it harder to tell his wife, whose family is staunchly Catholic. While she is sympathetic, he does not think she fully understands just how deeply the abuse has affected him.
Although he is well-supported now, the reactions to his initial disclosures have affected his life greatly. ‘The response by the persons from whom I sought solace and help had a profound lifelong lasting impact on the private and working life of my beliefs, my views, my interactions, my social life, my relationships, my self-esteem, my working career and my emotions.’