Since being abused at a Christian Brothers school in Western Australia in the 1960s, Graham has struggled to achieve some kind of justice, not only for himself but for future generations of children.
He told the Commissioner that soon after he arrived at the school in Grade 6 he was subjected to violent beatings as well as sexual abuse. Eventually he tried to tell his mum what was going on, begging her to talk to the Brothers on his behalf, but ‘she didn’t do what she should have done’ and the abuse continued off and on for a full seven years until Graham graduated and left the school.
Free from his abusers, Graham excelled at university and went onto build a strong professional career. He said it was ‘easy to be optimistic’ when he was in his twenties, but as the years went by and his children reached school-age he began to see the hidden legacy of the abuse surfacing in his daily life.
‘When a Brother turned up suddenly at the Catholic school where my kids were I just said to him, “You touch my kids and I’ll take to you with a piece of four-b’-two”. And the principal came down and said, “If you’re going to keep saying that I’ll call the police”. And I said, “Good”.’
Luckily, Graham said, the principal dropped his threat and the matter was resolved peacefully. Still, he maintains that attacking the Brother was his ‘gut reaction’ and he really would have done it. As an adult he’s never been shy about confronting the Church and telling his story. ‘I’m happy to tell anyone and everyone, and many people in the town I live in are aware of my sexual abuse and I don’t hide it from anyone.’
The downside of this openness is that it occasionally exposes Graham to ignorant and hurtful comments. ‘When I was married my wife constantly said it was just disgusting that I allowed a man to have some sexual activity with me. Well, I didn’t. And I could never – I feel as much as she tried, I could never get that through to her.’
In the 1990s Graham reported the abuse to police. ‘The first guy was okay but when I rang back the other guy basically told me I was lying, I couldn’t remember events back to the 1960s and that I should forget all about it and get on with my life.’
Years later, Graham received a similarly cold and dismissive response from the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. Though in the end he did receive compensation, he feels he had to fight unnecessarily hard to get it. ‘All the documents said: guilt hasn’t been accepted or not accepted, that they’re not under any obligation to pay. So all the time victims are trying and trying and trying and I think a lot of them do give up.’
Now with the support of his partner and his children, Graham has moved on from his personal battle with the Church to take a broader view.
‘I’m past the stage of horror and shock. I’m past the stage of being a victim of sexual abuse; I prefer to call myself a survivor of sexual abuse. I’m past the stage of great painful regret, because I can’t change anything. I’m past the stage of expecting any meaningful response to my abuse from the Catholic Church. I’m at the stage of looking forward and seeking affirmative action so that sexual abuse from Church personnel will never occur again.’