Cohen's story

Cohen was two years old in the 1980s when his father died. His mother struggled financially to look after her two sons and as a result they moved around regularly. ‘I guess day-to-day sort of costs add up for a single parent. So my mum, I believe it was pretty hard for her to sort of cope with that all the time.’

When Cohen reached adolescence, he would often skip school as well as vandalise and spray graffiti around the city. His mother could not control him, so when he was 14 he was sent to a residential home run by the De La Salle Brothers in Queensland.

Upon arriving at the home, Cohen thought ‘on face value it looked a pretty decent place’. But in reality, he soon discovered a culture of bullying and initiation rituals.

‘I remember getting assaulted by older guys there, you know, punched. And then I remember them also punching into the younger boys there. I remember occasions when the cottage parents would just turn a blind eye. As long as it was out of sight and there was no visible signs, they used to let it happen …

‘There were times when one of the cottage parents used to get the older boys to beat up the younger guys if they didn’t do something or they told them about an incident that happened. And they would go and get punched up down the back of the cottage or out of sight, basically so no one could see them …

‘I remember these Year 10 boys coming into my room and basically shaking me up and threw water over me. And they were telling me to get to the shower or something. “Go to the shower” and then “Get the mop” or something. That was just a ruse for them to go in there and get me to basically perform sexual acts on them, on those boys. I remember they were all standing around in the shower cubicles, and they were just laughing and joking.’

One of the Brothers, Brother Gregory, had a habit of making the boys line up in a row after they returned from a weekend away, and forcing them to strip naked, ostensibly to check for any ‘contraband’ items. ‘He made everyone get naked in there and then we were standing and then he was sort of like telling us to bend over and like, you know, do things and stuff.’

One day Cohen was doing chores when Brother Gregory called him into his office to clean the windows.

‘I was on a ladder and I was standing on a ladder with a squidgy cleaning this window. And he came up beside me, brushed by me and said something like “Have you got undies on?” or something. And I was a little bit shocked at what he asked. And I’m like “Yeah” and he’s like “It doesn’t look like it”. And I remember him just groping at me. He just said to me “I think you better get down from there and go into that [store]room” ... And then he made me take my clothes off in there and basically told me to masturbate in there.’

Cohen was abused by Brother Gregory in this matter approximately five times while he lived at the home. Brother Gregory would threaten him not to tell anyone, implying that disclosing the abuse would give the older boys incentive to harass him further.

On another occasion, Cohen had a minor injury and needed to visit the sick bay where the Brother in charge made him take his clothes off and started feeling his genitals while asking ‘where does it hurt?’

‘He said to me “You’re getting aroused, aren’t you?” Something to that effect. And he said to me “How about you get aroused with this” and then pulled out his penis. And then I remember him saying to me “Well, go on, don’t let it sit” … I remember I didn’t want to do it, I said “I’m not going to do that”. And he said to me “Yes, you will”. And I remember I actually fell off the bed, the sick bay bed. And then he’s like, I can’t remember exactly the words, but he said something really vile.’

One day while Cohen was working in the computer room he was approached by the computer teacher who asked if he experienced any bullying from the other boys. After Cohen confided in him, the teacher began to massage his shoulders while telling him ‘I can keep a secret if you can keep secret’. He then began fondling Cohen under his shirt and trousers, telling him ‘You don’t have to tell anyone. I can make it go away ’cause I can get the older boys to back off’.

Cohen never told anyone about the abuse because he was certain that ‘people would’ve just thought we were making lies or just trying to cause trouble’. Because he was often in trouble with his cottage parents for minor misdemeanours, he assumed ‘they would’ve just thought “Well, you’re making it up” or “You’re just trying to cause trouble”’.

Cohen stayed at the home for about a year, after which he tried to put it all behind him. He found friendships difficult because people made assumptions about his personality after learning he had spent a year in a boys’ home. When he reached adulthood, Cohen began to spiral out of control, and eventually sought professional help in his 20s.

‘It was a combination of just alcohol and prescription medications, which led me to a few hospital visits and psychiatric hospital visits as well … I went on a bit of a binge, you could say, and trying to wipe myself out. And then one of my friends said to me that “You need to go and get help”. So the result of that was going to see a psychologist.’

Cohen told the psychologist about the abuse he experienced at the De La Salle home and eventually told his mother in a ‘PG13 way’. He has never reported the abuse to the police nor taken any civil action, however he may consider doing so in the future.

As a result of the abuse, Cohen has had difficulty trusting people and believes it severely stunted his potential. ‘It limited me as to what I could or what I felt I was capable of doing in my life at that time. I didn’t really have a high self-esteem and I think struggling trying to live day to day.’

Cohen believes there should be stronger scrutiny into large institutions that care for children, as well as the people who work with them.

‘The Catholic establishment is such a huge entity, if you like. And they’re sort of protected almost behind these sort of walls and so forth that people do believe them and think that they’re going to do good and that.’

In spite of the struggles he has experienced in life, Cohen has completed his tertiary education and is optimistic about the future.

‘I think that I’m just like a lot of people, they don’t really want to be defined about what happened to them, good or usually bad. Things that happened in their early life. And I try not to let that shape me as much as I can.’

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