‘It’s not just the physical events that occurred so long ago, it’s the ripple effect. It’s through your social life, your relationships with people, your education, your networking. It’s all of these things … There’s consequences all the time. You move away from the centre of it with the years, but you never get away from those ripples that present themselves in your daily life, almost every day.’
Bryn was abused at his Catholic high school in Victoria in the late 1960s. It was 45 years before he was able to tell anyone what happened.
‘I heard something on the radio about the Royal Commission and I thought “Why am I here at three o’clock in the morning doing this and other people are doing other things that are so much better than I ever have?” And I started to get a bit angry about it.’
Bryn grew up in a small rural community and went to the local primary school, a childhood he described as ‘very happy and normal’. Although the private school was nearby, his parents sent him as a boarder so he could get a good education and socialise with other boys his age.
He said one of the Brothers there, Brother Michael, started to abuse him almost immediately and, within a week, had already touched him about three times. The abuse, which included penetration, continued for the three years he was at the school. He was also sexually and physically abused by other boys, with regular beatings and bullying.
There was nobody he could tell.
‘If I went down to the local police station and reported this, I’d be marched back to the school and the police would have said this is a matter for the school, not the police. There’d be a real outcry because my parents were fairly well connected in the community and knew a lot of these people personally and I thought “Gee, the trouble I’m going to make”. That’s part of the reason I didn’t say what I would have liked to have said.’
Because he was a boarder, he was constantly surrounded by his abusers. He said he spent every day just trying to survive and avoid situations where he might get hurt. As a result he was unable to concentrate and his schoolwork suffered greatly.
In his mid-teens, his parents switched him to being a day student and the abuse from Brother Michael reduced, eventually stopping as he got older. In the mid-70s they moved him to a different school, where he scraped through to the end of Year 12. However, he was unable to go on to further education.
‘It’s a bit like building a house with no foundations. You can keep building up on it but it all falls apart because you haven’t got that education which in later life limits a lot of opportunities.’
He took on a series of low-skilled jobs, went in and out of relationships, and did what he could to put the abuse to the back of his mind.
‘I tried to forget about it all. For many years I had this recurring nightmare where I thought I was going to go back to school and this voice would say “You’re going back to school, you’re going back”, and I was in my 30s. It took me a few days after each dream - they were always the same - to realise that it’s not real but something inside me said “It is real, it’s going to happen”. I just tried to put it to one side. But then I realised after a lot of failed relationships that maybe I wasn’t that normal.’
Once he’d decided to disclose, he contacted a survivors’ advocacy group and they referred him to a lawyer. He also contacted the police multiple times, but said that virtually nothing has come back from any of these services.
‘Here’s a Royal Commission going on which is supposed to be looking at institutional responses. The only thing I’ve had from institutions is nothing. And now it’s coming up to three and a half, four years, and still nothing. It’s a kick in the guts. It just hurts.’
He found out Brother Michael has since died. This explains why the police didn’t investigate his case, but he is still pursing compensation and waiting for some kind of resolution.
‘I took a long time to come forward, I acknowledge that, but I’m now starting to realise why people don’t come forward if they hear about this. Why would you bother?’
After his disclosure Bryn was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. He’s had periods of unemployment which have left him very low, but he has started seeing counsellors, and the Church recently offered to pay for a series of counselling sessions while he awaits the outcome of his legal case.
At times, the process of going through the various services has been overwhelming for Bryn, and he said it would be useful to have some sort of victim’s ombudsman to help bring the strands together and move things along.
An apology from the Church would also help his healing.
‘An acknowledgement would be a good thing and the way you acknowledge things is to do something about it. If these people don’t want to self-regulate then government’s got to step in and put some rules in place because, from what I can see, no-one’s going to do anything unless they’re forced.’