Brenda spoke on her behalf of her son, Andrew, who was sexually abused at a Catholic boarding school in the mid 1980s. Brenda said that when she sent Andrew off to the school at age 12, he was an excitable, ‘loving kid’ who enjoyed the first few months of his stay.
Then Andrew started getting into trouble a lot. One of his teachers, Brother O’Dell, took an interest and started making contact with Brenda. She recalled that ‘he came across as very confident, very caring, very respectful, very consoling at times with me. Every week he spoke to me, he sent me letters, he had me believe that he had Andrew’s interests at heart and he was there to be Andrew’s rock and support’.
Brenda knew that around this time Andrew was getting caned frequently for misbehaving, so when O’Dell suggested that they try a different form of discipline she thought it was a good idea. O’Dell suggested they put Andrew in isolation for three days so he could get his schoolwork done. Brenda asked for the details.
‘He said he [Andrew] would be at the end of the dorm in his own little area, isolated room. Little did I know – I only found out this at the end of last year – that that was where all this abuse took place; it was actually in Brother O’Dell’s office, and apart from his office, was his bedroom
Many years later, Brenda discovered that O’Dell raped Andrew multiple times during the three days that he was kept in isolation. At the time she had no idea. She told the Commissioner, ‘O’Dell had rung me twice during that time and said, “I think this time it’s working. He’s in isolation now and I’ll get him to ring you tomorrow”. And he got him to ring me the next day, and I remember Andrew’s voice, broken … That went on all the rest of that year.’
Brenda said that it never occurred to her that O’Dell might be abusing her son. ‘I and all my children are very strict Catholics, and never did I ever envisage anything that he actually divulged to me last year. It makes me sick to my stomach.’
After Andrew’s three days in isolation, Brenda noticed a dramatic change in his behaviour. From a loving, excitable boy he became ‘very dark’, aggressive and occasionally psychotic.
‘He became a real threat to the family to the point where he actually got a knife once and produced it in the kitchen … So we’ve all had our own nightmare with what’s going on because we didn’t know what escalated this horrific, mad environment that he lived in.’
Andrew left the boarding school in Year 9 and went on to finish Year 10 at the local high school. He developed a heroin addiction at 19, went through a string of jobs, had two kids and did some time in jail. Throughout this period he would drop in and out of Brenda’s place at random times and Brenda would witness his suffering without knowing the cause.
She remembered that he ‘never, ever took his shoes off – sleeping on the couch, ready to run, someone’s going to get him. And the nightmares were horrendous. I witnessed the sound of them, just absolutely belting the couch and wailing and screaming. Horrific, horror tone of his voice. It was mad’.
Brenda also had to deal with the harsh feelings that Andrew directed towards her. ‘My son held hatred for me all those years because I condoned the isolation, and because of that he was raped repeatedly. So I caused it, he said.’
When he was in his late 30s, Andrew stopped showing up at the house. He vanished from Brenda’s life for the next two-and-a-half years. Then one day he called her up out of the blue and told her the whole story about O’Dell and the abuse. He explained that he was planning to sue the school and needed her help.
As soon as she hung up the phone, Brenda phoned the school, not realising that it was 2 am and no one was going to answer. The next day she spoke to the headmaster and told him that her son had been abused by O’Dell. The headmaster was shocked and sympathetic and encouraged her to contact the Catholic Church’s redress process Towards Healing.
Brenda spoke to Towards Healing and also did some research on O’Dell. She discovered that he had been convicted of sexually abusing several children and would be in jail for the next seven or so years. Brenda then met up with Andrew. By this stage Andrew had been through rehab, disclosed the abuse to his counsellors and organised a placement at a second, more intensive, rehab clinic. He spent the next two weeks with Brenda, chatting and planning, and then left for the clinic. A short while later, Andrew was killed in an accident.
Brenda told the Commissioner that she was glad she had the opportunity to tell Andrew’s story and she was grateful for the two weeks they had together before he died – a time in which Andrew demonstrated how much he’d grown and changed.
‘He said, “Mum, I’m at peace. I’m finally at peace”. He said, “Now I want to ask people to forgive me for all the hurt I’ve caused them. I’ve hurt thousands of people in my life and that’s triggered – I’ve lost all my brothers and sisters, lost my family, lost my children.
'I want to go back and see my children one day and have them be proud of me as a dad”. So he had a big goal to achieve. And at that point in time he was taken. He’s with his father now.’