Damen was 11 when his brother Patrick died at the age of 17 as a consequence of sniffing aerosols. Damen felt the loss terribly. He became quiet and sad, and his parents weren’t around much as they struggled themselves to cope with their son’s death.
Looking back, Damen thought these circumstances made him more vulnerable to the sexual abuse he was subjected to by Brother Kieran at his Sydney De La Salle College school in the early 1980s.
When Damen tried to tell his mother that he was ‘being hurt at school’ by Kieran, she dismissed him. ‘I told her this was happening and she said, “Catholics don’t do that. They don’t do that. That’s just ridiculous”, and she didn’t believe me. She thought I was trying to get attention.’
Damen told the Commissioner that he was afraid of disclosing the abuse to anyone else because Kieran had said he’d get Patrick kicked out of heaven if Damen ever spoke about it.
‘I was brought up that they talked to God’, Damen said. ‘These people are God’s chosen people to talk for him, and that’s what he told me, so that’s what I believed.’
The abuse had started with Kieran comforting and touching Damen, and over 12 months escalated to rape. It ended when Damen hit a teacher and was expelled. As well as sexual abuse, Damen was severely physically abused in the school. He once dislocated his shoulder after being thrown across the classroom by a teacher.
Expelled from his second school, at 15 Damen was living on the streets. He broke into houses to steal food and lived on what he found in dumpsters at the back of fast food chains. Eventually he got a bed at a youth refuge and from there found a job in transport, working his way up through the organisation.
For a long time he didn’t care if he lived or died. ‘I tried to slit my wrists a few times’, he said. ‘I’ve crashed motorbikes at high speeds and that didn’t do anything. I was a risk taker. Ride my motorbike on the back wheel at 100 with no helmet on, that sort of stuff. I just didn’t care.’
In about 2012, Damen’s mother rang him after seeing a television program about abuse by the De La Salle Brothers. Specific mention was made of Kieran. ‘She realised this did actually happen’, Damen said. After watching the program, he broke down.
The lawyers mentioned in the television program represented Damen in a civil claim against the De La Salle Brothers, and in 2015 the matter was settled for $375,000 with about $100,000 going in legal fees. Damen found the mediation process disappointing and until the date of the meeting, the De La Salle Brothers and their legal representatives denied Kieran was at the school at the same time as Damen.
The apology by the head of the De La Salle Brothers rang hollow to Damen. ‘He sat there on behalf of the Brothers: “We’d like to apologise for everything that was done to you”, and you know, “Had we known we would have put a stop to it”. And it was all bullshit because they moved him from one school to another school to another school – and behind everywhere they moved him was the kid he abused.’
Damen was supported through the process by his wife, Natalie, with whom he could ‘unload a fair bit’. During mediation, Natalie asked the De La Salle Brothers what current measures they had in place to prevent child sexual abuse.
‘They said the screening process for their Brothers had increased’, Natalie said. ‘And, “Because there’s such active awareness in the community now, these sorts of things tend to be actioned as soon as known”. They screen their Brothers. Well, how do they screen their Brothers? How do you know?’
After he became aware that Kieran had been charged with criminal offences against others, Damen felt confident to report his own abuse to NSW Police. He found the experience positive and the police he dealt with helpful. His mother had made him promise that he’d ‘see it through to the end’ so, in spite of experiencing flashbacks and finding the process difficult, he determined to persevere.
‘Him in jail or him dead. For me, he’s got to know he didn’t get away with it, right? I’m just nothing to him but he’s been my nightmare since I’ve been 11.’
Damen believed sexual offenders shouldn’t be eligible for parole. ‘You get 20 years, you get 20 years’, he said. ‘How many of these clowns get out of jail and reoffend in the first 12 months? I don’t know what the stats are, but they’d be high. Look, me personally, I’m an advocate for the death penalty but that’s never going to get across.’
He looked forward to the day when he could stand over Brother Kieran’s grave and ‘piss on it’.
‘I just want to make sure, you know. If this stops one kid going through it, then it’s worth it, for me to do this.’