Brooke came to the Commission to tell the story of her son, Patrick, who was sexually abused as a teenager and later took his own life. She said that Patrick was abused by a man named Roger Lennox, an elder in her church at the time.
Brooke described the church as a ‘cult’. It was an independent Christian church that ran its own school, which Patrick attended. Members like Brooke and her family lived near the school and worked there during the day.
‘This was a very closed group. I’d cut off pretty well communication with a lot of people because that’s how this place sort of works. You don’t keep your relationships outside. You concentrate on serving the Lord within.’
Lennox was one of two elders who ran the church and the school. Brooke said ‘I did trust them implicitly, to the exclusion of my family and old friends’.
When Patrick was in Year 10 he ran away from the community and stayed with his grandfather. After a few days, Lennox and one of the other elders went over there and brought him back. But they didn’t bring him back to Brooke’s place. Instead, the elders decided that Patrick was to live at the Lennox’s house from then on.
Brooke explained that by this time her husband had left and she was raising the kids on her own. ‘By now as a single parent I’d had the mat pulled out from under me about my own integrity and worth as a single mother. There was always kind of the push that these boys need a man in their life.’
Patrick lived with the Lennox family for the next two years. During this time Brooke saw him rarely and ‘always at a distance and always with people around’. She was told not to talk to him, ‘except about eggs and weather’.
As soon as he finished Year 12, Patrick ‘took off’. He stayed with his father for a while and then lived on his own.
Brooke recalled one day when he dropped round to her place for a visit. She said that when she saw him coming she immediately rang Roger Lennox. ‘Which is kind of the mentality. I mean, I feel dreadful, I can’t tell you.’ Patrick was carrying a birthday present for her. ‘I said, “I don’t want anything from you, I just want you to come back”.’
Sometime later Patrick took his own life. He was in his mid-20s.
After that, Brooke said ‘it was like a light went on’ and she decided to leave the church. She travelled to the town where Patrick had been living and started to investigate what had happened to him.
‘I tracked down these people that had known him, tracked down the people that had written songs and done a video of him and the two counsellors that he’d engaged with, and during that time I found out Patrick had attempted suicide while he was living with Roger Lennox in Year 12. And I’d never been told.’
Brooke also learned about the sexual abuse. It turned out that Patrick had discussed it with his father and with a woman who lived next door to his grandfather. He had made them both promise not to talk about it. While he was alive, neither of them did. Brooke finds this hard to comprehend.
‘I cannot for the life of me understand why two people sworn to secrecy didn’t take it further.’
Brooke’s understanding now is that from age 14, Patrick was sexually abused by Roger Lennox.
After Patrick’s death, his father went to the police and told them what Lennox had done. ‘They said something to him about, “We all try to find a reason after somebody’s died”, so they weren’t really that interested.’
Brooke ended up writing to the ombudsman but ‘that really didn’t go anywhere’. Eventually the church ran its own investigation and concluded that there was ‘no substance’ to the allegations.
Lennox died several years ago. Meanwhile, Brooke and her family are still struggling with the repercussions of Patrick’s death. Brooke said that one of her children suffers from severe depression. The other two have remained with the church and don’t believe the story of Patrick’s abuse. ‘They would defend Roger till the end.’
Brooke suffered some severe health problems but is recovering well. She found a new church which she says is ‘very supportive’.
‘A couple of years ago I didn’t want anything to do with the church at all, so that’s kind of a big step back into normalcy, I think. Because it’s actually what I do believe, it was just so hard to equate with what was going on in my life.’