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Garth's story

In the mid-1970s, when Garth was eight years old, he attended a Lions Club camp. One of the leaders, Jim, told Garth’s mother that he could help Garth with his hearing problem.

Over the next three years, Garth would catch the train to Jim’s unit where he would be sexually abused. He told the Commissioner that Jim was also abusing his brother, as well as other children. Eventually one of the other boys disclosed the abuse to his mother and she contacted Garth’s mother. The parents reported the abuse to the police and Jim was charged. Garth said that Jim was convicted but then acquitted on appeal.

Garth’s mother was angry because he had not disclosed the abuse to her earlier. It was this anger that caused Garth to remain silent when, several years later, he was sexually abused by Brother Robin at a college run by the Salesians. When Garth was in Year 7 or 8, Brother Robin abused him for 12 months.

Brother Robin ran a boys’ club at the college. The club offered sport and social activities. Brother Robin asked Garth to assist him in setting up equipment and then took him to his bedroom in a nearby cottage. He made Garth massage him with talcum powder. This abuse became a regular occurrence and included masturbation and oral sex. Once, Brother Robin took both Garth and his younger sister back to the cottage and made them both massage him with talcum powder.

The abuse came to an abrupt halt when Garth had an accident in an unrelated incident and was hospitalised. He was then admitted to a psychiatric unit for 12 months. While there, he disclosed details of the sexual abuse by Jim to his psychiatrist. The following year he went to a De La Salle boarding school, which he said was a good experience. Eventually, in Year 11, he disclosed Brother Robin’s abuse to a school counsellor.

Garth told the Commissioner that it was at this time he started to struggle with his sexuality. ‘I classify myself as gay and I had a 10 to 15 year battle thinking, “If the abuse didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be gay,” and I couldn’t separate that and it made me angry’. He has also struggled with alcohol and problem gambling and is unable to maintain relationships.

Garth says that in the early 2000s, he disclosed Brother Robin’s abuse to his mother and approached the Catholic Church. He was discouraged from reporting to the police and was sent to a Church-appointed psychiatrist for assessment. Garth has never seen the psychiatrist’s report but believes that it stated that most of the damage was caused by the first abuser, Jim.

In addition, the head of the Salesian Order told Garth that they did not believe him because Brother Robin said on his deathbed that he never abused boys, only girls.

In the end, the Church gave him $8,000, after legal fees, and no apology.

‘They knew I had run out of options. They knew I didn’t have the emotional capacity to continue. They knew I did not have the funds to continue.’

Garth said that, ‘Towards Healing needs to focus more on the damage to the victim than on their appearance to care. Previous abuse that has occurred outside the Church should not be used as a weapon against the victim’.

More recently Garth’s life has changed for the better since he located his natural family and moved in with his natural brother in another state and has been receiving therapy for his drinking and gambling problems.

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