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Darren James's story

‘I just want to make it clear, if it wasn’t for my wife I might never have come forward … She was always there for me … I was the one that was withdrawn as a result of never speaking about this abuse. It’s like it set a precedent. I just kept everything else secret, even my own feelings.’

Darren experienced sexual abuse and physical abuse as a day boy at a Catholic school in Victoria in the 1960s. He came from a strong Catholic family and said his parents would have expected heavy discipline from the Salesian Brothers at the boarding school, but not to the extent he experienced.

‘Casting back on it now, it was very harsh. I’d say barbaric.’

There was frequent physical punishment for minor offences, with canings and beatings seemingly inflicted at random.

One particular Brother, Brother Benson, singled Darren out in church one day for misbehaving. Darren said Brother Benson took him into a storeroom leading off from the chapel to discipline him – an event which was repeated a number of times.

‘He would take me in there and he would say to me “You’ll just never learn, will you? You’re misbehaving in chapel”. And he would bash me about the face with his open hand, give me blows to the stomach. He would say “What would your parents think of you now? You’re nothing but a bloody poofter”. Those exact words, I remember them. When he was saying that he would touch me on the genitals, grope at me, squeeze …

‘He would repeat it about three times within the space of five or 10 minutes. And at the end he would just say “Get out of here”.’

He said he can remember exactly what Benson said and did in that room. He can’t say how many times it happened, but he knows it was several. Darren thought he was the only one this was happening to and he didn’t disclose the abuse for 45 years.

‘I never even contemplated talking about it, talking about the abuse. I felt shame, I felt guilty, I was just too afraid to talk about it in case it was my fault … There was no one around, nobody to tell then anyway except my parents but I never – the thought of telling anyone never entered my head at all, never.’

The abuse had a severe impact on his psychological wellbeing, both at the time and later.

‘I remember in the mid-1960s when I was getting abused, I used to have these horrific nightmares. More like fits, they were anxiety attacks or panic attacks multiplied by a thousand. But I always had them when I was asleep … they were just horrific and I kept having them till I was 30. Not as frequent but still kept having them and I could never figure out why. I know now.’

After school, Darren married and had a child, but the emotional impacts continued. He told his wife about the physical beatings he’d experienced but could not bring himself to talk about the sexual abuse.

He said he was withdrawn and emotionally detached throughout his marriage and eventually his wife demanded to know why. He felt cornered, and told her in an attempt to save the marriage. She was very supportive and encouraged him to see counsellors and report to the police, which he did. However, they still fought and their relationship deteriorated to the point where Darren felt he had to get out, after 40 years of marriage.

‘We never got back together. I’ve got to admit I just, I didn’t want to. I just wanted to be on my own … Whether I’ve made the right decision, I don’t know. Sometimes I question myself.’

Brother Benson was investigated and charged for crimes against Darren and another survivor who had come forward. However the case never reached court and Darren feels strongly that justice has been denied him. He is now going through civil proceedings in a compensation case against the Church.

He came forward to the Royal Commission in the hope that by telling his story it would encourage others to come forward.

He said he has the support of his son, and is still on friendly terms with his ex-wife, but if Benson were found guilty that would bring him some closure.

‘I’m just hoping Benson will be charged. It can’t be for me now, but I’m hoping someone else will come forward.’

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