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Dietrich John's story

Dietrich and his brothers did much of their growing up without their parents, who worked abroad for months of each year. ‘I don’t remember loving my parents because they were never home. [Younger brother] Marcus and I were very close. We looked after each other.’

There was no shortage of money, he said. ‘So they put us in apparently – supposedly – good schools.’

The first of these was a Christian Brothers boarding school in regional Victoria. Dietrich started there in the 1960s, when he was 12 or 13, and Marcus started at the same time. Both boys were sexually abused multiple times at the school. Dietrich, who had begun his school life in Europe and spoke English with an accent, was also frequently physically punished for his mispronunciation of words.

‘I was strapped heaps of times for different things’, he said. ‘I wasn’t bad. Some of the kids were there because they were bad, but that’s not why we were there.’

After a year, the boys moved to another Christian Brothers school, where Dietrich was again sexually abused.

He described his experiences in a written statement he brought to the Royal Commission. He is unable to talk about what happened.

‘I just don’t want to remember it. I can’t cope with it’, he told the Commissioner. ‘I cannot make myself remember because it’s too painful.’

Dietrich was first abused shortly before he went to boarding school. When he was about 12, he was sexually assaulted by his scout leader, Jeremy Dale, who was about four years older. He called Dietrich one Saturday and invited him to go tadpoling in the bush near his home.

‘I was very surprised and had to think for a moment who he was. I knew Jeremy from scouts but more like an acquaintance. We weren’t really friends. He was so much older than me.’

Dietrich agreed to the outing. Walking along a track, Dale threw himself on top of Dietrich, held him down and sexually assaulted him. Eventually Dietrich escaped, and made his way home. He didn’t feel able to tell his parents what had happened. Several years later, when he rejoined scouts after a period at boarding school, Dale was still a leader in the troop. During an orienteering game at a camp, Dale pursued Dietrich, terrifying him. Later, he became very friendly with Dietrich’s father.

‘He would come over and drink whisky with my father in his study. They became friends. Jeremy would ask my dad if he could take me to the movies. I refused but my dad would become really angry with me. Jeremy would ask me in front of him and when I said no, Dad yelled.’

Eventually, Dietrich left scouts. Years later, Dale phoned him up. Dietrich’s wife took the call and Dietrich refused to speak to him. He later found out Dale had got the number from his father.

As a teenager, Dietrich was suspended from the second Christian Brothers’ school he attended.

‘I was basically kicked out for being violent, because I was super angry, the way I was treated. So I wasn’t allowed to go back, which my parents were furious about. I was more than the black sheep in the family by that stage.’

He enrolled instead at a state high school, where things went much better.

‘I absolutely loved it. From the first moment I was there I just thought, why couldn’t it be like this all the time? I just loved that school. And I did so well. I had so many friends … None of the children were being abused at that school. They didn’t have hang-ups. They didn’t have violence. They didn’t have horrible things in their brain. They were just people’, he told the Commissioner. While some kids had problems: ‘It was nothing compared to having a brain full of abuse and torture and fear – fear all the time.’

The establishment of the Royal Commission led Dietrich to report the abuse to police and engage a lawyer to help him seek compensation from the Christian Brothers. They had offered a settlement of $20,000, which Dietrich said was inadequate. He was planning to seek new legal advice to help press his claim for more.

‘Now that I’ve opened up the can of worms, you know, I want that apology and I want some compensation, it’s as simple as that’, he said.

As far as he knows, the police haven’t begun any investigation in relation to his complaints. The lack of outcomes means the pain involved in revisiting the abuse has hardly been worth it.

‘I do wish in a sense that I went overseas in the last five years and I didn’t come back, so I didn’t hear about the Royal Commission … I think it’s a very, very important and good thing, the Royal Commission, but wish I’d never got started. Now I’m stuck halfway.’

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