Boris John's story

To this day, Boris has been unable to identify his whereabouts from the ages of 15 months to six years old. He believes that he was in state care with his siblings in the early 1940s, but his records don’t show his place of residence until he was moved to a Catholic orphanage in a regional town in Victoria.

Boris was six when he was placed at the home, which was run by the Nazareth Sisters. His siblings were also there but lived in a separate section and Boris didn’t ever see them. He was told by the nuns that his mother was dead.

In the four years Boris was in the home, he didn’t attend school. He said the nuns were ‘unkind’ and would often inflict punishments, and he remembers older residents also beating him. The younger children were made to scrub the floors and were hit if they stopped.

‘[You] used to get down on your hands and knees and scrub the floor. If I stopped, there was a bigger boy there. He had a long stick … He would whack me across the back if I stopped. That happened quite often.’

Boris explained to the Commissioner that he doesn’t remember ever sleeping in his own bed in the dormitory. He was forced to share a bed with one of the nuns and was sexually abused by her over a period of four years. He doesn’t remember her name nor how many times the abuse occurred.

‘She used to have orgasms. I didn’t know what it was and I remember there was always someone else in the room, standing in the corner. It was dark and I could only see a shadow. It was always dark when she took me into the room … I don’t remember sleeping anywhere else except her bed.’

As a child, Boris never told anyone about the abuse because he didn’t really understand it. At nine, he found out that his mother was not in fact dead, and soon after this he left the home and with his siblings went to live with her and her new husband.

After leaving the home, Boris was ‘never encouraged’ to go to school. He said that he struggled to read and write and ‘didn’t see the point’ of getting an education. He also developed a stutter which became more pronounced when he was nervous. In his late teens, Boris began to drink heavily. He also started hanging around with a ‘bad crowd’ until he met his wife, Cassie.

When Boris was in his 20s, he asked if his friend could talk to Cassie to find out if she would go out with him. She said she wouldn’t unless he ‘cleaned up his act’. Boris then decided to give up alcohol and they began dating. He told Cassie about the abuse when they were in their 30s. They have been together for over 50 years.

Cassie taught Boris to read and write. She also encouraged him to attend speech therapy and after three years he was successfully managing his stutter. It only now returns when he is nervous. Boris said Cassie ‘pulled’ him up and he was able to get a successful job in a factory. He is extremely fond of his wife and acknowledged how supportive of him she has been.

‘I thought if I had some of that encouragement earlier in life maybe I could have gone on to more highly paid jobs. I could have achieved something else in my life.’

Boris still suffers from nightmares. He has high anxiety and bouts of anger, and finds it difficult to speak to people he doesn’t know. He also struggles with physical contact, and would never show affection to his children nor bathe them. He believes this is why his relationships with them are strained.

Boris has a good professional relationship with a psychologist, which he said has helped him significantly. He is also in the process of receiving legal advice about making a civil claim.

‘It’s not really [what I want to do]. They say, “Go for compensation”, but money will never take this away … Money will never provide closure. I’ll take this to my grave.’

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