Austin was sent to a Catholic boarding school in the late 1950s, when he was 13 years old. One of the teachers at the school was Father Chris Moore. ‘For us kids’, Austin said, ‘He was one of the most friendly guys you could meet’.
Father Moore had a reputation for encouraging the boys to talk openly about sexual topics. He was seen as funny, a bit rebellious and also approachable.
At 14 Austin was experimenting with masturbation. Troubled by ‘Catholic guilt’, he met with Father Moore in a classroom one evening and asked for his advice. The priest asked Austin to demonstrate how he masturbated, and Austin did. The priest asked, ‘a whole lot of suggestive questions’ and then Austin returned to his dorm.
After that, Austin ‘didn’t know what to think’. He avoided contact with Father Moore and there were no more incidents of abuse. A few years later, Austin mentioned the abuse to his brother and father, who were both supportive, but apart from that he put it aside and got on with his life.
Over the years he suffered some sexual dysfunction and became very protective of his kids, but otherwise he said he wasn’t traumatised by the abuse.
‘I’ve done a lot of work on myself with this, so I’m pretty much okay with it all. I did four years virtually of psycho-social stuff.’
Austin made a statement to police in the 2000s, after meeting with the support group Broken Rites. Nothing happened for a few years and then one day the police called him. One of Moore’s other victims had come forward and the police wanted Austin to appear in the case as a witness. Austin agreed and prepared his statement. Unfortunately, Moore was declared unfit to appear on grounds of ill health and the case never got to court. Austin was disappointed.
‘He got off the hook. I never really wanted to chase money. I just wanted to get him into court and see him squirm, but it was never going to happen.’
The injustice motivated him to seek other remedies and he signed up for the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process.
Austin was unimpressed from the start. He said that the supposedly ‘independent’ agent they sent to take his statement was an ex Christian Brother, and he brought his wife with him, leaving her in the car for half a day while he took Austin’s statement. Austin told the Commissioner, ‘Professionally it was bloody hopeless’.
The mediation session wasn’t any better. Austin discovered that one of the Church representatives had previously been charged with child sex offences himself and had been acquitted on ‘purely a technical bit of bullshit’. The representative offered him $5,000 compensation.
‘That’s when I become mercenary. I thought “this is a joke”.’
Together with three other survivors, Austin engaged a law firm. The lawyers were ‘a fantastic mob. Alsatian on a chain’, and with their help he secured $65,000, minus about $20,000 in legal fees. The other survivors received much more than he did, but Austin said they also suffered far worse abuse so he was pleased with the result.
Austin had a number of recommendations to make, informed by his work in the justice and community sectors. He wants to see the federal government establish a national register of sex offenders. He thinks the Catholic Church should be stripped of its tax breaks and should not be allowed to attach ‘hush clauses’ to offers of compensation.
Austin also suggested that a Truth and Justice Commission, similar to the South African model, be set up to deal with complaints of child sexual abuse and that the whole issue should be considered in a wider, national context.
‘The cost to society of sexual assault must be calculated in public, similar to the cost of tobacco.’