Declan Reece's story

‘It was just like prison. It was exactly the same.’

Declan was born into a large family in Queensland in the early 1970s. His father was absent, but his mother was hard working, and always put her children first. He described his family life as ‘good’.

However, in the mid-1980s, when Declan was in his early teens, he was placed into a Catholic boys’ home. He does not know the reason why, and is still angry about this.

‘I had my brothers and sisters, [Welfare] could have put me with them. They could have put me in foster care. They could have adopted me out. They could have done a lot of other things but they put me in an environment that was really ugly.’

At the home, Declan found the violence and tough discipline confronting. He ran away on his second day after he was flogged. When the police returned him to the institution, he was flogged again, then placed in an empty room - the ‘prison cell’ - for two days as punishment.

On another occasion, Declan was physically abused by Brother Paul for swearing. The Brother punched him, split open his head, and knocked out two teeth. Declan managed to ‘walk 15 metres’ before collapsing. He did not receive medical attention.

The Brothers would also watch the boys shower. There were no doors and the boys were forced to shower together. ‘There was no need’ for any of the Brothers to be in the shower room, and Declan felt uncomfortable knowing that a man was ‘perving’ on him. The boys were also strip-searched multiple times a week.

Declan’s cottage parent Douglas Skinner sexually abused him over a three year period. As Skinner walked by, he would slap Declan’s bottom, before pressing a finger into his backside. Sometimes Skinner would ‘wiggle’ his finger around, aiming for Declan’s anus. This was done while Declan was clothed, and happened to other boys as well.

Declan couldn’t tell anyone about the abuse. He knew that the staff knew what was happening, but nothing was ever done. If anyone did complain, they would ‘get flogged’ before being placed into the ‘prison cell’ as punishment.

Declan wrote to his mum every day. ‘I wouldn’t say, “I want to go home”, but I would say, “Mum when am I coming home?”.’

Entering the Catholic boys’ home effectively stopped Declan’s education, and prevented him from acquiring ‘any life skills’. ‘I can’t do maths. I can’t do English. I can’t find work. It’s really, really hard to find work’, he said. ‘I want to own my own home and I can’t even get a loan. I can’t support my family.’

When Declan left the institution in the late 1980s, he lived on the streets for a couple of years, and became addicted to heroin and alcohol. During this period, he was also jailed three times.

Declan had his first child in his late teens, and tried to turn his life around. However, he struggled to find work, and had complicated relationships, but today is very proud of all of his children.

In the early 2010s, Declan received compensation from a settlement claim. The legal process, he said, was ‘disappointing’ and the money ‘didn’t last long’.

‘If I had it my way, I wouldn’t even have taken the money. I would have said to them, “You can buy me a house. You can give me one of your houses”. I got no education, I’ve got nothing in my life.’

Declan has reported the physical and sexual abuse to the police. He doesn’t know how the investigation is progressing, but knows that Skinner has not been convicted.

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