It was the early 1970s and for Eddy in Grade 4 at a Christian Brothers school in Victoria, school was a happy place. He was good at most subjects and had a particular interest in music. His report cards from the time expressed the likelihood that he’d do very well in Grade 5.
But the next year saw his school marks slip dramatically. He’d moved that year to Brother Bennett’s class and over the course of a year, Eddy was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Bennett. ‘He took me into the sports room, he pinned me down, he took my pants off and he sexually assaulted me. There was no grooming.’
At the end of that year, the mother of one of Eddy’s classmates confronted the Brothers with a complaint that her son had been sexually abused by Bennett. The school principal who received the complaint successfully dissuaded the mother from reporting the matter to police, and Bennett was moved to another school. In later years, that school principal, two other Brothers and the parish priest were all charged with child sexual offences.
Eddy told the Commissioner that his older brother was also abused by Bennett and, in the 1990s, the two men reported their abuse to Victoria Police. The police dealt with the matter well, something for which Eddy was grateful.
In court, a barrister and six witnesses spoke glowingly about Bennett, but the victim impact statements from Eddy and his brother weren’t read out. ‘So after two or three hours of people getting up and saying what a good bloke this perpetrator was, then they go, “Oh, yeah, I’ve read the victim impact statements over lunch, this is what the sentence is going to be”. And I don’t think that gives anybody a sense of justice.’
Eddy said Bennett’s legal team had been granted numerous adjournments because ‘they needed to make sure that the judge is going to be a staunch Catholic’. Bennett pleaded guilty but it would be a further two years before sentencing. Eventually, the Christian Brother was given a two-year suspended sentence.
In the late 1990s, Eddy and his brother had a meeting with representatives of the Christian Brothers. One of them asked why they thought they needed compensation.
‘[He said], “What happened to you wasn’t too bad” … I wanted to punch this guy’, Eddy said. ‘I was gonna smash the table, I tell you. He was just making out, pretty casually, there was nothing really, you know, you don’t really deserve compensation.’
Eddy and his brother received $26,000 each but weren’t offered counselling or advised to seek independent legal advice.
Eddy told the Commissioner that he thought the abuse had made him into a ‘very hard person’. Though he’d been successful at work and had a good job and two ‘great kids’, he had no friends and regretted what might have been with his musical talent. ‘Maybe I would have had a different career.’
Until he was in his 20s, Eddy made sure that he was never alone with a man. He’d been ‘very programmed into a defence mode’, until he realised what he was doing. ‘Even if I was in the car with Dad, I’d be sitting on the handle door ready to jump out. I mean, I was just very, very – I wasn’t going to let it happen to me again.’
Together with others, Eddy was working with a victim support group, trying to engage Church staff in acknowledging past abuses. They also wanted the Church to provide resources to help survivors and their families in the community.
More than 20 of Eddy’s Grade 5 classmates were dead, many, he said, as a result of suicide. ‘It makes you want to stick around and see it through. Because it’s not just for me … it’s for other victims too.’