From three days old until the age of 10, Aron lived in five different Catholic orphanages in regional Victoria. His stay in care was paid for by his mother. ‘So long as payments were made, I stayed in the orphanages.’ As he wasn’t a ward of the state, there was no obligation by the institutions to provide him with anything.
‘My mother, once in a blue moon, took me out, but I had no concept of a mother. I didn’t even know she was a mother. I thought she was just an outside person. There was no interaction. But it was very rare I got taken out.’
Aron was sexually abused between the ages of six and eight by a nun at one orphanage, who would make him masturbate her. He was also taken into a classroom about once a month and beaten.
Aron came under the care of the Brothers from the age of eight and endured two years of physical and sexual abuse from two Brothers in particular, one of whom he describes as a monster. It was when he was in the Brothers’ care, that Aron started bedwetting.
He didn’t see other children being sexually abused. Aron believes that that’s because he kept himself insular. ‘I shut off from everybody.’ He did wonder once why boys giggled and looked at him when one Brother rubbed his bearded face against Aron to make his face red. ‘But I didn’t care. Someone was interested in me. That’s all that mattered.’
It wasn’t until he was in his mid-20s, when he saw a TV program about sexual abuse in a particular Church Order, that Aron realised he wasn’t the only child this had happened to. It was then that he opened up to his wife about the abuse. Before then she’d only heard very general things about his life in the orphanages.
Aron has received compensation from two institutions and intends to make a further claim on one of them.
At a meeting organised through Towards Healing, a nun told Aron that he’d get more money if he had proof of the abuse. She said he had to understand that the nuns were just on a pension. ‘I just lost it and I walked out.’
At another meeting, Aron asked a Brother who was a member of the Provincial Council how it was possible to have such a concentration of abusers in one institution.
‘He just said to me “Look, you’re a Brother in the church, in South Melbourne. It’s the dregs”. He said, “I’ll put it bluntly. The kids are the dregs of society … You’re just the wash, if you like”.
‘He said where are they going to put the Brothers that aren’t doing much or whatever? … “It’s a demotion basically. So they throw them into these orphanages … It’s almost like jail. So what do you start doing?” That’s how he explained it to me.’
Aron spent years trying to make sense of the abuse he suffered and the fact that his mother paid for him to be kept in orphanages. He’s happily married now but struggled for years to understand the concept of family. He also found it hard to socialise normally with people.
Although Aron says he does well in life, whenever he is praised and offered advancement he doesn’t want it. ‘I learned through the abuse that anonymity is the best. Keep quiet. Keep out of the way … That transpires through my life, basically … Because you become a target. With the abusers, they groom … and I don’t want to be a target.’
Aron believes that as he went from one orphanage to another he became more predisposed to being abused, in large part because the Brothers and Sisters groomed him. He also wrestled against a sense of attachment to the nun who abused him.
It’s still hard for him to shake off the belief that it’s all right to be abused. He has ‘flashes’ of thinking that it’s normal behaviour. This feeling of normality was heightened when he realised later how many other children had been abused.
‘I’m on top of it. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to speak the way I’m speaking now … I know the flashes will come back … But I’m strong enough to put it aside.’
Aron had never been able to bring himself to report his abuse to the police. Nor does he think formal counselling helps. ‘It’s happened and you can’t wash it away.’ He does think that he’s more socially savvy now and his wife agrees.
Aron believes more work should be done to teach welfare workers about the grooming aspects of child abuse – to gauge the level of vulnerability that might make a child a potential target to an abuser.