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Dean Robert's story

Dean was born into a large family and came to live in northern New South Wales. When his father died in the mid-1970s, Dean was little and his mother struggled to cope. Dean was sent with a few of his brothers and sisters to stay in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. He was nine years old when the orphanage gate first closed behind him. He stayed until he was 17.

‘I don’t know how they selected these people’, Dean told the Commissioner, ‘but the majority of them shouldn’t have been anywhere near kids’.

The orphanage was a harsh and unhappy place. Staff turnover was high and Dean is sure that some left because they could not cope with the punitive and violent environment. He lived in three houses that were part of the orphanage around the town. He can only remember his house parents as all nasty and horrible.

‘There was violence … It was nothing for you to cop a full-on punch in the mouth off a grown man.’

Dean attended local schools but struggled in class. Coming from the orphanage he was bullied by other students. ‘I didn’t learn to read or write until I was 10. I was behind the eight-ball from the start. I couldn’t learn, didn’t understand Maths or English or anything like that.’

When he was 13 years old Dean was sexually abused by Father Arthur Robinson. Dean was an altar boy at the local church and Robinson was very friendly and kind to him. ‘He seemed like a nice enough fella to start with … He wanted to talk to you, and then he’d start holding you and touching you. He’d pick you up from behind and bounce up and down. I didn’t realise what he was up to, to start with.’

Robinson arranged with the orphanage to take Dean and his two siblings on a weekend trip to a fair at a nearby town. Robinson was the parish priest at the Catholic Church there. On this trip, Robinson and Dean and his siblings all stayed in the local presbytery and they all slept in the same room.

‘I woke up with him laying behind me. He had my penis in his hand and he was trying to hump me.’

Dean jumped up and bolted across the room to where his brother and sister were sleeping. Robinson went back to bed and in the morning nothing was said. Robinson continued as though all was normal between them. This was the only time Robinson attempted penetration, but he continued to sexually abuse Dean for a year.

‘Just grabbing hold of your tit or walking up behind and picking you up and shaking you around, up and down his body, and grabbing you as you walk past and making you sit on his knee and not letting you go.’

Dean told no one at the orphanage about the abuse. ‘I couldn’t tell anyone. It was run by the Catholic Church, a Catholic priest … They didn’t want to know about stuff like that. They wouldn’t believe you anyway.’

The abuse had an immediate impact on Dean. ‘I started acting out a bit I think. Wagging school, wagging sport. Just not wanting to be anywhere near people. Not wanting to go to church. I stopped being an altar boy … I just started being extremely rude to people, not trusting people.’

When Dean eventually escaped the orphanage he worked briefly and then gravitated back to the remnants of his family. He began to drink and take drugs. He became an alcoholic. Dean married and had a child but his drinking wrecked the marriage. His wife left him and took their daughter with her.

Dean has struggled with depression all his life. Mistrusting people, he often spent time alone. ‘I did a lot of fishing and went out bush a lot.’ He has thought about taking his own life many times and came close to acting on it in his 20s. He refused counselling or psychiatric support at the time.

Dean has had dealings with the police, but has avoided jail until a recent conviction for an assault dating back many years. When he leaves jail he is determined to get his life on track. Dean married a decade ago and his wife is very supportive. Dean is also now free of drugs and alcohol.

‘I turned to the bottle and drugs looking for answers. There hasn’t been any answers and I don’t know if anyone can give me any answers but I sure as hell want to find out. I want some help.’

Dean has kept his child sexual abuse a close secret. He plans to change that when he gets out of jail and is reunited with his wife. ‘I haven’t told her bugger all about this, but I tell you what, I’m gunna.’

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