‘It was hell on earth, it really was.’ That’s how Derek described the Christian Brothers home in regional Victoria he was sent to when he was 12.
Derek had been truanting, and was made a ward of the state. He spent four years in the Christian Brothers home and remained silent about the abuse he suffered there for 50 years. Finally, in 2006, he approached the Catholic Church to be part of its Towards Healing process.
During his time at the home he was sexually abused by several Brothers. The abuse included forced masturbation and oral sex. One of the Brothers would come to Derek’s bed at night. ‘He had sex with me and it was real sex’, Derek told the Commissioner. ‘And to this day I can still taste that in my mouth.’ There was also a group of older boys who would force the younger boys to perform oral and anal sex.
Derek ran away over and over again but each time was found by police and returned to the home where he’d be severely punished. The police didn’t ask why he kept running away, and he didn’t tell them. ‘Christ, no, you wouldn’t want to do that’, he said.
The sexual abuse took place within a culture of general abuse and deprivation. There wasn’t enough to eat. There was schooling, but it was based on threats and fear. The Brothers ‘ruled with an iron fist’, Derek said. ‘You wouldn’t want to put a foot out of place.’
Derek believed the Brothers were well aware of the sexual abuse going on. ‘Definitely. They were a cruel lot, they really were.’
Throughout the four years he was at the home, Derek didn’t receive a single visit from a welfare officer, despite being a ward of the state. No-one came to check on his situation. Distressingly, he later found that the many letters he’d written to his father, begging to be taken back to his parents, had never even been posted.
In speaking to the Commissioner, Derek was very definite that he hadn’t wanted his parents or his now ex-wife to know what had happened to him. He was determined that his children would never find out. ‘I’ll go to the grave before I talk about this with them’, he said.
He didn’t intend to report the abuse to the police. And though he’d received a compensation payout of $25,000 through the Towards Healing process, the experience of meeting with Church representatives and lawyers had been a very difficult one.
He’d been called to a meeting, explained his situation, made to wait and a little while later had been presented with an offer and papers to sign. On the Church side was a lawyer who Derek found very intimidating. Derek was there on his own.
‘They were sort of like a law unto themselves’, Derek said. ‘They just wanted you to buzz off. You know, “you’ve made this complaint – okay, you’ve made it, now just go”.’ There was no negotiation, no offer of support or counselling, no follow-up and no apology. The lawyer said ‘We’ve decided that we’ll give you some money’ and that was it, Derek explained.
His dealings with the Church in recent times have confirmed the feeling he’s had for many years.
‘I’ve got a hatred for religion. It doesn’t matter what it is, I detest it’, he told the Commissioner. ‘Since going back very, very early, I have detested them. I wouldn’t spit on a priest if he walked past me. I don’t know if it’s anger – just that, “You’re the bastards that done it”.’
In recent times the Royal Commission had been giving him some comfort. He was grateful that it had been established. He’d been watching the hearings on television and finding it very satisfying. ‘You knew that justice was being done to those bastards’, he said.
His final words to the Commissioner: ‘Keep up the good work’.