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David John's story

In the early 1960s, David was awarded a bursary and started his first year of high school at a Christian Brothers boys’ school in Sydney. Within a short period of starting, he was being singled out by a teacher, Brother Max Hoffman, who would keep David back after school for minor infractions like inattention or incomplete homework.

Hoffman was a physically imposing man who’d beat David with the strap, and then open his cassock and press David against his erection under a guise of offering comfort.

‘He’d say things to me like, “There, there, it won’t hurt for long. There you are, there you go now. No more of this, eh? You just have to try harder”. And then he’d say, “All right, off you go home”. Now it wasn’t a daily event. I can’t swear to the frequency, but the first time I felt humiliated only because I’d been smacked.’

The punishment continued over two years and David didn’t tell anyone what Hoffman was doing.

‘I had realised at that time what had been done to me when I reached puberty, which was quite late; I understood fully what he had done. I didn’t know the terms for it. The term sexual abuse hadn’t been created … I just knew what he’d done to me was wrong and filthy. I didn’t know it was a crime at that stage, but I developed an absolute abhorrence of homosexuality.

‘I started to drink even though I was only just 18. I started to drink, and I would go and drink in places where I could see there were effeminate men. I would single myself out or I’d single somebody out and encourage them, and then when the opportunity arose of – it may be when the hotel was shutting – the invitation of “Come back to my place” or “Let’s go up to Kings Cross to a night club or something”.

'And I would get to a situation where having led the victim, I would assault them and rob them. And I did this on numerous occasions.

‘The last one, or the worst one, was a man who was probably in his 40s, perhaps even in his early 50s … I’d started working out in a gym at that stage and I assaulted him. I beat him so badly, he was hospitalised for about five weeks.

'I was arrested, charged with assault causing grievous bodily harm – and that was the start of my downward path.’

As a consequence of being charged, David was sacked from his job. In his early 20s he got ‘angrier and angrier’ and was ‘becoming more cunning’, assaulting and robbing men and opening cheque accounts in his victims’ names. At one stage he had 47 aliases and was brought before a magistrate who said, ‘I don’t know who you are’.

The magistrate sentenced him to 18 months in jail where David had his sentence extended after assaulting a fellow inmate who’d made what he perceived as sexual overtures.

David told the Commissioner that he’d later married and had a son but left his family while his wife was pregnant with their second child. ‘There was that wall, there was a block, there was something there that I could not get through and I just bailed out. I just ran.’

Some years ago, David moved interstate and found a place he could finally call ‘home’. He became involved with his Catholic parish and attended mass daily. Then he found out that Hoffman had left the Christian Brothers years earlier and had moved to the parish in which David now lived. Hoffman was now dead, but news of him having lived in the area and that he had been held in high regard ‘shattered’ David.

He disclosed the abuse to the parish priest who referred him to Towards Healing, but didn’t follow through the process because he thought it inappropriate that he was asked to speak to a nun about his experience.

David described his history of being ‘destitute, living in jail, divorced’ and having mental health issues as consequences of having been abused by Hoffman.

‘My life is incomplete because of what that man did to me. In my heart, where I have the human right to carry love, there is instead a vacuum. I will die without ever having known true love, what it feels like. I will die truly alone. I cannot forget that criminal. I am the victim. I am the victim.’

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