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Billy Stuart's story

‘Occasionally on a bad night when I struggle to sleep and I stare into the darkness I feel I am back in that cubicle hiding from this monster.’

It was the late 1960s, and Billy was 10 years old, when Brother Peterson summoned him to an empty classroom at his regional Victorian Catholic school. The Christian Brother falsely accused him of a minor misdemeanour, then ordered him to stand in front of the teacher’s desk and bend over.

Billy expected to be hit as punishment. He didn’t expect his pants to be pulled down, or for Peterson to stick his finger in his anus. ‘I now know this to be digital rape.’ This penetration lasted around 30 seconds and was very painful.

Afterwards Billy was in shock, and unable to sit comfortably. ‘I was in pain and it took me at least a fortnight before I was able to go to the toilet without any discomfort. I also had blood in my underpants for at least a week.’

A week after the assault Peterson again called Billy to the classroom, making him write out lines. When he was half-way through this task Peterson ordered him to stand at the desk and bend over.

Billy now expected to be sexually abused.

‘At the last moment l swung around and grabbed the metre-long ruler that was hanging up beside the blackboard, and with Brother Peterson’s back turned to me, I hit him with the ruler as hard as I could and ran.’

In hindsight, he recognised this was a bold move. ‘I didn’t think it was gutsy at the time. It was just a case of “I don’t want that to happen again”.’

Billy fled the school and hid in a toilet block in a nearby park all day. The block was very dark and he was scared, locking himself in a cubicle and fearing Peterson would burst in at any time. ‘I snuck back to school 10 minutes before school finished and jumped on my bike and rode home.’

Peterson ‘never actually spoke directly to me again’.

‘After the second episode I carried my pocket knife in my blazer or pants pocket for the remainder of my primary school days. I decided I wasn't going to let him penetrate me again. I would use the knife to protect myself.’

Billy did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time as he feared he would not be believed, and also that his father might harm Peterson if he knew about it. ‘I was worried that if I told my dad he would end up in jail as I am sure, if he had known what Brother Peterson had done to me, he would have killed him.’

He had good reason to be concerned: there was a time when Billy had received ‘six of the best’ with the strap, and his father had later punched the Brother who gave him this punishment.

A few years ago, Billy disclosed to his wife after seeing media reports about child sexual abuse. He draws great strength from their marriage, children, and grandchildren. ‘You see the little boys [grandsons] and you think, gee, you don’t ever want them to go through the lifetime that I’ve had. It took me 30 years of marriage before I opened up to my wife.’

Peterson died about a week after Billy’s disclosure.

‘I am now angry with myself that following his death I will never get the chance to eyeball Brother Peterson and ask him what perverse pleasure he got from his attack on me.’

Confronting the Brother might have helped him understand that the abuse was in no way his fault. ‘It seeps in, you start to think – it’s insidious really, because over the time ... You think, did I do something to make that happen?’

The abuse is always with Billy in various ways. He feels triggered by lying in the dark – as it takes him back to the darkness of the toilet block – and so has difficulties sleeping. ‘Although this occurred decades ago I still suffer flashbacks and depressive feelings.’

Billy would like an apology or at least acknowledgement from the Christian Brothers for what Peterson did to him. He is not very interested in compensation. He feels that money could not make up for what he went through, but might consider making an application should a redress scheme be available. ‘The only thing that’ll do is let me know that people have seen the pain that it’s caused.’

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