Bruce only recently disclosed the abuse he experienced as a boy. That’s not because its effects have lessened over the years.
‘If he walked into the room I’d smell him. The smell never goes away’, Bruce told the Commissioner. ‘I’m 66 now and the anger’s still there.’
When Bruce was nine, his mum died. He was a student at his local Catholic primary school at the time, in a suburb of Sydney. He missed his mum terribly, and one day broke down in class. His teacher sent him to see Father Bexley, the parish priest whose residence was on school grounds.
Father Bexley promised comfort but instead sexually abused Bruce, both at his residence and in a room at the back of the church. The abuse began with kissing and touching Bruce’s penis, and over time came to include masturbation, oral sex, digital penetration and rape. It lasted for about a year and then abruptly came to an end – Bruce never knew why.
‘I still carry the guilt about was there other kids after me? Because all of a sudden he just stopped.’
The abuse was made even more painful and confusing by the way Bexley used Bruce’s dead mother to make him compliant. Bexley could speak to God and to Bruce’s mother in heaven, he told Bruce, and through him Bruce would be able to speak to his mother too. What Bexley was doing to Bruce was okay because she was watching what was happening and would tell him if it wasn’t all right, he said. She’d be angry with Bruce if he didn’t do what Bexley wanted. And if Bruce ever told anyone what was going on, he would never get to speak to his mother again.
‘I used to blame Mum sometimes. I used to blame Mum for dying, I got so angry about my situation …
‘When I think – he’s even taken away the memory of my mother. Because when I think of Mum, as I do every day, he comes into it … When she died I supposed I was looking for love and affection and that, but not this way.’
There was no one Bruce felt he could tell. His father, a very strict Catholic, wouldn’t have believed him, he said. And there wasn’t anyone else.
‘You feel so dirty and ashamed, I couldn’t approach anyone.’
Instead: ‘I just lost the plot. I’d wag school, and then there was trouble at home – it just went back and forth, back and forth.’
At 13, Bruce was sent to boarding school. At 16, he joined the armed services – ‘I had this silly idea I wanted to help people’, he explained. ‘The funny thing is even though I joined the military I hate being told what to do.’ He did a tour of duty overseas, and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Back in Australia, he married and had children. That relationship has lasted, though he said it has not always been easy on his wife. ‘I’ve been lucky. No other woman – I would have been dead or something by now.’
He believes the sexual abuse had long-lasting impacts. ‘I’ve got a thing about personal space. Anyone gets too close – even family; it’s caused a lot of problems in our marriage over the years and even with the grandkids and that, I just explode … If I show affection or someone starts to like me, I do things to push ‘em away. That’s my sort of protection. I know it sounds weird.’
It’s affected his working life as well. ‘I had a lot of jobs. Because of the abuse I wanted that personal space all the time as I got older … I won’t step out of anyone’s way. Every part of my life and thoughts – it’s just instantaneous …
‘Because of this I ended up doing time – I ended up losing the plot – it’s a combination of a lot of things. And I did spend time in jail, and I did do one or two things, but I did get set up for others, that’s the way they play the game.’
While in jail he met a psychologist, who spoke to him about notorious paedophile Robert ‘Dolly’ Dunn and others who had been jailed for their child sex offences. ‘Every one of them, he said, the first chance they get they’re going to re-offend. The only time they’re going to stop is when they’re dead. I know it sounds terrible to say this but give me a weapon, plenty of ammo and names and addresses and they won’t re-offend. That’s how much I hate them.’
Bruce has never had counselling or engaged with psychiatric services. ‘Especially coming from the military – you didn’t seek help because you’d be a wuss.’ But he is now receiving advice about his legal options and is considering an approach to Towards Healing.
‘I’ve got to deal with this … I thought as I got older I’d have more control but this piece of shit’s still got control … I think of Mum all the time, and if that comes into my head – I go off’, he explained.
‘I just want some calm. I just want some peace …
'I think I might have been a far better person if all this shit had never happened.’