Bruce’s parents separated in the 1960s. Their marriage had broken down after years of domestic violence. When Bruce was eight or nine years old, his mother moved him and his siblings to regional Victoria and he began to attend the local Catholic school.
In the early 1970s one of Bruce’s siblings died in an accident. This loss was soon compounded by a close relative’s unexpected death. Clergy from the school supported the family during this difficult time.
Throughout his school years Bruce had been an active participant in sport. When he was 12 years old he suffered a groin injury and one of the senior clergy referred him to a local sports injury practitioner who lived close to the school.
‘I went into his house … and then went into a room … he started … to work on where the problem was … and then he started to touch me.’
The middle-aged man touched Bruce’s penis and forced Bruce to stroke the man’s penis. Bruce was repulsed but also, confusingly, excited.
‘I was 12 or 13, you know, puberty, you know, I was just a young kid … It was like exciting but not exciting.’
Bruce had to go back to the man another two or three times for further treatment. The abuse continued and included rape.
In these visits Bruce was also groomed by the man.
‘He knew what my [family] situation was … he relayed a story to me … making me feel “this has happened to me, this has happened to you, we’re kindred”, sort of stuff.’
Bruce only went to see the man a few times as his injury healed. A few weeks later though, the man called his home and suggested that he take Bruce out on a drive. His mother agreed and the man picked Bruce up and then raped him in his car.
‘It was hard to tell anyone in the family about this because there had been so much that had happened in our family … as a young person, the last thing I wanted to do was to cause any angst to the family. Although, you know, this concerned me … it wasn’t right, and I … wasn’t empowered … so it just kept going.’
Bruce went on a few more drives with the man, and each time he was raped. He finally told his family he didn’t want to go with him anymore. They accepted this without question and the man stopped pursuing him.
Bruce began Form 5 at a different Catholic school and soon came across rumours of sexual abuse amongst the students. The subject was taboo and the boys didn’t openly talk about it, but there was coded talk amongst students in Bruce’s year.
Bruce’s concerns were confirmed when one day at assembly, the principal introduced a new priest. It was the sports injury practitioner who’d abused him years before and had since been ordained.
‘There was so much mumbling going around … and comments. For me … a sense of relief that I wasn’t alone … that there was others who were affected … but the other thing that struck me was how the institution protected people.’
This feeling plagued Bruce throughout his life.
‘It’s only that I’ve started to look at the connections. I really had a strong feeling that these aren’t isolated instances.’
Bruce believes that staff at the school knew that the man was an abuser. They sent him, a vulnerable child with a challenging home life, to see the man, knowing that the man would abuse him.
‘Back then it just seemed to all come together that the place [the school] was set up as an institution, potentially, where this sort of thing was protected.’
The abuse changed Bruce.
‘I often feel that because this happened to me I was cheated in some way … In the early years it was the way I viewed sexual relationships … where it was more a power sort of thing or it was more about the act than getting too deeply engaged or love somebody.’
He did eventually marry and has had a fairly stable, loving relationship. But anger management has been a significant challenge for him.
‘There have been times when I have flown off the handle and I’ve been, not physically aggressive but just scary … angry, and I think it would probably come from … that this wasn’t completely resolved.’
As he has grown older he’s gained perspective on the abuse and his life generally. He had a period of depression which forced him to seek psychological support and he talked about his abuse for the first time. This helped both Bruce and his wife to understand his behaviour.
Watching the responses of the Catholic Church to the Royal Commission has also angered Bruce and encouraged him to speak out.
‘They just don’t get it … Really they were supporting criminal activity in my view … I saw it as being systematic and systemic. I saw it as being something that would provide an institutional protection … for these people to migrate to, to do what they do.’
If there had been a safe place to report the abuse, or a person he could talk to, Bruce would have spoken up.
‘Absolutely. Without a doubt … it was a culture of fear. We’ve set the rules down, you break the rules you go to hell … as a child you just felt like you had nowhere to go.’