Accompanied by his mother, Dave spoke to the Commissioner about the abuse he suffered during the 1970s while he was a student at a school run by the Patrician Brothers. He said that in his first year, when he was about 10 years old, he was targeted by Brother Keegan who would ‘put your hand in his pocket and make you touch it’.
On top of this, there were at least two incidents of more extreme abuse. During the last of these incidents the principal, Brother Sloane, ‘walked into the room, and Keegan had me over the table’. Sloane shouted at Keegan, then bundled Dave into a car and drove him home. On the way he told Dave that if he mentioned the abuse to anyone he would get caned.
Dave’s mother, Janine, met them when they arrived. Sloane told her that Dave had fallen over and injured his backside. Later, Janine tried to check on Dave but he refused to talk about it. Dave said it wasn’t just the principal’s threats that kept him quiet; by this stage he had also been threatened, beaten and cajoled by Keegan many times. As a child, he never told his mother what really happened.
Janine said she still feels guilty when she thinks back to those days. During the private session she and Dave had this exchange:
Janine: ‘I feel a failure as a mum, that he didn’t have confidence in me to come and tell me.’
Dave: ‘It wasn’t that, Mum. I’ve tried to explain this: it’s what they do to you, they brainwash you, that I’m his mate, it’s our little secret, don’t tell anybody, blah blah blah. It’s brainwashing. I was only a kid. Easy to convince. Give them a lolly and they’re your friend forever. In those days if I did come out, who’s going to believe me?’
Janine: ‘Well, I would have. Would have been up at that school that next morning.’
Dave: ‘No one would have believed you. They would have thought I was a kid telling fibs. That’s what they kept on drumming into me: no one’s going to believe you. So what are you supposed to do?’
After Sloane discovered what was going on, things changed at the school – slightly. Dave was removed from Keegan’s class and shifted from one teacher to another over the next year or so. Davis is certain that Keegan continued to abuse other boys.
Eventually Dave left and did the rest of his education at the local public high school. He went on to learn a trade, which he enjoyed because the hard physical labour gave him a way of working out his anger. ‘If I ever felt threatened, I wouldn’t talk, I’d just start throwing punches’, he said.
Eventually Dave started to question his violent behaviour. He was hanging out with his dad one day when the old man jokingly touched the back of his leg. Dave felt a rush of temper that was so intense it worried him. Connecting the dots back to the abuse he’d suffered at school, he decided he had to confront the past, and went on to tell his wife and mother what had happened.
Janine was shocked by the news.
A short while later she was in confession with the local bishop, ‘And it just came out. I hadn’t seen this Sloane or the other fella there that night, but I said to him, “Brothers here, religious Brothers, one of them got my youngest son”. And he said, “Did you go to the police?” I said, “No, it happened 30 years ago”. He said, “I don’t care if it happened 30 years ago or three days ago, go to the police”.’
Janine took the matter to Dave who decided that he didn’t want to go to the police. Instead he contacted the bishop who got him started on a redress process with the Patrician Brothers. The Brothers were hostile and sceptical at first, but changed their tune once they received the investigator’s report and Dave’s psychological evaluation.
Dave said he was annoyed at the Church and his own lawyers because they seemed to focus exclusively on the issue of monetary compensation, whereas what he really wanted was an apology from Keegan, delivered in person. He ended up with $30,000 and never got to speak to the Brother.
These days Dave is getting better at managing his anger. He’s also found that he has a knack for identifying and helping other survivors of child sexual abuse. ‘I don’t know how it is; I pick up on it … I say, “Well, something happened to you when you were younger. When you’re ready to talk about it, feel free. I’m one of them, too”.’