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Bryan Thomas's story

‘I fucking don’t trust people. I’m paranoid ... I think everyone’s bad. I see a person talking to a [little] kid and … someone else will think, “Oh this is a nice old man talking to a little kid” … I’ll think, “He’s a fucking creep trying to get him”.’

Bryan began attending a Marist Brothers primary school in the Australian Capital Territory in the late 1970s when he was about nine years old. His Year 4 teacher, Brother Neil, began to sexually abuse him at the beginning of the year.

‘I caught him in the back of the class with his pants down. He was masturbating. I startled him … he grabbed me, pushed me towards his crotch … There was other times that he’d just walk past me, touch me all the time and stand behind me and rub his groin. I was very uncomfortable in that class. I didn’t like it.’

The abuse continued throughout the year.

‘It really terrified me, honestly … when I think back, I was scared shitless of that bloke. I spent time running around trying to hide from him. I even went to other classes and just sat in there … [and] got in trouble.’

He didn’t report the abuse to anyone at the time, except for mentioning his teacher’s behaviour to his elder sister.

‘I told my big sister once that my teacher’s weird. But then she said something to my mum and Mum started screaming at me, “Dad pays good money for you to go to the school”.’

When Bryan went into Year 5, sexual abuse continued with another teacher, Brother Simon.

‘Him [Brother Simon] and Brother Neil were friends. They’d talk in front of each other with me in the room. It was like he was passing me onto him.’

Brother Simon’s abuse also included physical abuse and public humiliation.

‘He’d be really nice to me and then he’d be rude to me in front of the other kids … hitting me with the cane. Just ostracising me from the whole school.’

When Bryan started at the Marist high school he believed the abuse would stop. But it soon became clear that the sexual abuse was common knowledge between the two schools. Soon after the start of Year 7, Bryan had to see the coordinator of the teaching program, Brother Keith.

‘I got scared because I remember thinking, “Excellent, I’m away from that school” … And then [Brother Keith] walked into the office saying, “The Brother over the road has told me all about you. We’re all friends” … and that’s when he stood up and he had his penis out.’

Bryan was also sexually abused by another teacher. Both these men perpetrated significant and intrusive acts on him. The abuse continued throughout the year. Bryan became so angry that, ‘I come out of the science lab and I was fucking real angry, ’cause I thought, “This is fucking wrong” … I’m not a bad person; these people are bad’.

Bryan made a commotion in the corridor and drew the attention of the principal. He disclosed his abuse to the principal but the principal believed the teachers and not him and he was suspended from the school.

‘He [the principal] knew something was going on for sure … What am I getting suspended for? For some creep following me around everywhere I went?’

Over the next four months, Bryan pretended he was going to school but instead wandered about the city.

‘It was four months … The school never rang and said “Your son’s not here”.’

Eventually, Bryan came to the attention of the police.

‘They were saying at the police station, “You got to go back to school, the best thing for you”. So, I started telling them everything I pinched in the last four months from shops and stuff and the police were just looking at each other, like “This guy’s crazy”. And they said, “We weren’t even asking about that”.’

But Bryan would do anything not to go back to school. The police sent him home but the talk of sending him back to the Marist high school continued and so he began committing more serious crimes, ‘breaking into houses … smashing things’. He was 13 years old.

From then on, Bryan spent time in boys’ homes and a juvenile remand centre. In the remand centre he was sexually abused by a male staff member after accepting a pill from the man. He took the pill and hours later woke up naked with the man in his cell. He yelled and screamed and the man left.

When Bryan tried to report his abuse to another staff member the following morning, he was threatened with his life to stay quiet.

‘I shit myself. I just dead set crapped my pants – I’ll never forget it. She scared the shit out of me. Here I was thinking this woman was going to come and save me … and she turned around and done that.’

After this incident he went home and ‘I went into my room until I was about 16 and a half’. He avoided his parents, siblings and the world.

‘Living there during the night when everyone else was asleep … I sort of had my life then [at night] which was pretty damaging when I think about it … Not ‘sposed to be thinking like that at 15 years old.’

The abuse has impacted upon every aspect of Bryan’s life.

‘I always had that memory in my head … It affects me a lot ... I went to take my son to school one day and I’ll never forget the feeling coming over me, I was going to start questioning, “Is anyone doing things to him” … just real paranoid.’

Bryan has spent about 12 years in prison for crimes such as break and enter and minor assaults, and has been addicted to heroin in the past. He was part of a joint case brought against the Marist Brothers and received compensation. This case though, was about the abuse in high school, not the earlier abuse in primary school.

Bryan’s memories of names and events can be confused and he often chooses not to think about that period of his life.

‘I just block things out, I guess. When I think about it, memories come back to me … How many things have I blocked out of my head?’

He was referred to a psychologist by his lawyers and has been able to see the psychologist once a fortnight for some years.

‘It’s helped. You suffer in silence. It [silence] doesn’t help. What do I do? I get drunk or I get on the drugs – that’s how I deal with it.’

Bryan has little contact with his parents or siblings.

‘It was like I was angry with them. They forced me to go back to the school … I’ve just learnt to live with [no contact].’

He is now in a stable relationship and has an employer who, despite his criminal record, regularly employs him. He also has young children he is helping to raise.

‘I don’t know what keeps me going. I don’t want to give up, that’s all.’

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