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Frank James's story

One of Frank’s children, after watching all the hue and cry about child sexual abuse in the Church, told him she thought it was all just media hype. Frank said, ‘Well, you better sit down and I’ll tell you something’.

The story Frank tells is a three-act tragedy of punishment - being sexually abused by his teacher after school, getting told off by his parents for getting home late, and then getting beaten the next day by the same teacher who sexually abused him.

Frank grew up in north Queensland and life was pretty good at first. His early experience with Catholic school was fine – there were some grumpy nuns at his primary school but also some nice ones. He went on some great excursions as well.

‘Cunning’ is the first word Frank used to describe his Year 8 teacher, Brother Conner. Somehow he got away with sexually abusing Frank for about two years. The abuse included masturbation, oral sex and sodomy and while it was happening, Frank’s bicycle was leaning against the classroom wall outside, in plain view, until five o’clock.

On the days he got home late, Frank had to make up excuses to avoid ‘being put through the wringer’ by his parents. Because Conner kept him at school so late he often didn’t finish his homework. So Brother Conner would punish him the next day. Frank thought he’d be in Conner’s good books but it never mattered what happened the day before, Frank still got hit.

‘They had these long bloody rubber straps or leather straps, and his was a big solid rubber thing. I’ll never forget it and it hurt like hell.’

Frank is pretty sure other boys at the school were being sexually abused. One boy refused to go to their school reunion years afterwards, saying, ‘If any of those dirty bastard Brothers are going to be there, then I’m not going to be there’.

Frank thinks the other Brothers may have suspected Conner. He remembers that someone once knocked on the classroom door when Conner and he were in there, maybe to check what was going on.

‘I was immediately pushed into a cupboard with my clothes, and told to be dead quiet and then he … disappeared and came back a while later and things continued. So I did as I was told, like. But it was wrong … and he knew. And I had to do what I was told.’

Frank didn’t need Conner’s warning not to tell anyone. He knew he’d never be believed anyway. His dad saw big welts on Frank’s arms one night from Brother Conner’s strap. He said that whatever it was Frank had done, he probably deserved the hiding.

Frank could have told his mum about Brother Conner after she found Vaseline in his underpants a couple of times ‘but I just didn’t have the guts to do it’, he said.

It’s no great surprise that Frank left school as soon as he could. ‘I wanted to get out of that joint.’

But Frank felt himself getting angrier and angrier as the years passed. He’d think about Conner every now and then. Then he’d bottle it all up again and still not tell anyone. And the anger grew.

‘You don’t forget it, but you don’t talk about it … what you have is a little box that you pack stuff into and you stash it away. And hopefully it disappears. But it doesn’t.’

As well as his anger, Frank was also fretting about the theory that victims of sexual abuse become perpetrators of sexual abuse. ‘It got to a point where I would have either exploded or had to let it out.’

After he told his wife and children about Brother Conner, a lot of Frank’s anger fell away. ‘I don’t think I’ve been cranky since.’

Frank went to Towards Healing to see if he could get an apology from Brother Conner via the Christian Brothers. But he was frustrated at every turn, telling and retelling his story to different people. ‘It just went on and on.’ He was told that Conner was too ill to respond. Frank ended up getting compensation but there was no talk of an admission or an apology.

Frank’s been depressed in the last year or so. And the same focus on child sexual abuse that led to Frank’s disclosure and relief is feeding his depression. Seeing Cardinal Pell regularly on TV is not helping him.

But he is very glad he came to the Royal Commission. ‘This is probably the best thing that’s ever happened, just to be able to know that there’s people who can understand.’

Frank thinks that schools have to take a lot of responsibility and that parents need to understand what can go on in schools and believe their kids. ‘They should be able to understand fact from fiction.’

He hates the fact we live in a world with no trust. ‘My vintage was probably where communities started to come unstuck a bit … not really looking at and protecting and loving and being all the real things that we should be to our families.’

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