Amber was sexually abused at a Christian Brothers orphanage in Victoria in the mid-1970s. The perpetrator was Brother Tanson, a member of another Order but a regular visitor.
In the early 2000s, after reporting the abuse to the Catholic Church, Amber’s case was found to be proven. She then wanted ‘the Christian Brothers to be brought to account’ for the actions of the Brother who supervised her dormitory at the orphanage.
‘He should never have let Tanson into the dormitory and he should never have allowed this fellow to sleep in my room … in my partitioned area.’
Amber tried to raise this complaint with the Church but was told ‘it was a separate issue and that the Christian Brothers were a separate entity’.
This meant applying to the Towards Healing redress scheme, which she did in the mid-2010s. ‘It’s taken me all this time to … make a complaint to Towards Healing, who are the Office of Professional Standards, and I think that’s a very loosely used term on their behalf – they’re not professional at all …
‘They are heavily embedded in the Church … My interview was conducted on Church premises, full of iconography … with someone from the cloth … part of an organisation that’s destroyed your life ... They are not independent. They are firmly ensconced in the Church’s grip and you’re made to feel like you’re powerless …
‘It was just a really horrible experience. Talking about what happened to me in a Catholic environment, it was like a Jewish person going into a place where there’s Nazi paraphernalia.’
Amber received little support from the Christian Brothers or the Church during the Towards Healing process. She felt that, since the abuse had already been proved, it should be a straightforward decision for the Order to take responsibility for the actions of one of their own.
‘The Christian Brother, I was arguing, had a duty of care to protect me … He was culpable for … providing health, education, shelter … and he failed.’
Almost a year later Amber received a letter denying her compensation claim, which she described as ‘absolutely devastating’.
The Christian Brothers claimed that clergy from other Orders were seldom invited to the orphanage, and only then to celebrate mass. ‘It implied that I was a liar and it was extremely damaging’, Amber said.
With hindsight she believes that Tanson and the Christian Brother, who had a close relationship, were both abusing children.
Amber has remained a member of the Catholic Church but finds it impossible to attend or be involved in any of its activities.
‘Some people [in the Church] I’ve told that I was abused as a child, they look down at me and think I’m rubbish and think that I’m a troublemaker and stuff like that. And this is a result of this letter that I’ve received … it’s not “Towards Healing”, it’s actually created damage, you know, it’s been “Towards Damage” … I feel I’ve got no voice … I feel like I’ve got no one in my corner.’
Amber is going to seek further advice from the legal service, knowmore. ‘It’s not just about me. It’s about other people as well … these people need to be called into account.’
She thanked the Commissioner for listening to her story.
‘I was never a fan of Julia Gillard but … this is one of the greatest things she probably ever did in her time in office. And I think it’s really important that people such as myself were able to relate to Australia what happens to children in institutions. They failed miserably … They failed when children were at their most vulnerable.’