As a six-year-old in the mid-1960s, Hany was sent by his mother and grandmother to a Catholic-run mission school in Western Australia. Their hope was he’d get a better education there than he would at home with them. But in the two years he spent there, the repeated sexual abuse he suffered made learning all but impossible.
Like Hany, most of the children at the school were Aboriginal. The school was divided into sections, for older and younger students. Hany had sisters and cousins there, but when he became a victim of vicious sexual attacks by older students, no one in his family could help him. ‘They had no voice’, Hany told the Commissioner.
Hany was anally raped again and again by three older boys. They sometimes abused him alone and sometimes in a group. Often there were others watching. He’s sure he wasn’t their only victim. ‘I think it was part and parcel of this institutional process’, he said. ‘They did it just like it was normal.’
Though terrified of the boys, who threatened to kill him if he told anyone what they were doing, Hany nonetheless tried to report them. He was never in doubt that what they were doing was wrong.
‘My grandmother taught me that. She said, don’t let people harm you’, he told the Commissioner. It’s her strength, he explained, that gave him the courage to come to the Commission. ‘The only reason why I’m very strong about this whole process is because of her … It taught me to say this is wrong.’
But as a child, saying it was wrong made no difference. Hany reported the abuse to a priest at the mission, but nothing changed. Looking back, he believes the priest was complicit in what was happening. Hany also told the Mother Superior. ‘[She] was very kind and very loving to me’, he recalled. ‘She gave me a listening ear.’ But again, it made no difference.
Eventually, the principal of the mission school found out what was going on and organised for Hany to go back home to his family. He was eight by then, and the abuse had caused him to develop a terrible stammer. ‘I couldn’t get words together, there was no words coming together because there’s so much emotion built up in my body that you can’t breathe properly … You’ve been sexually raped and you lose your sense of trying to express yourself.’
Home again, with a disabling stammer and literacy problems arising in part from a severe ear infection, Hany found himself treated as stupid, as ‘not all there’, he said.
The stammer lasted throughout Hany’s high school years and beyond. In the end a family member helped him manage it, and Hany went on to study and to have a successful career. Now in his 50s, he has a busy working life and is an active member of his community.
He’s achieved this by doing a lot of soul-searching, he said, and reading. ‘I had to read a lot of books. I have mountains of books and I keep reading all the time, to self-help me.’ Buddhist meditation helped as well. ‘It provided me with my silence, it provided me with a sense of switching off’. In recent years he’s also had support from a counsellor.
Before that there were years of alcohol abuse and difficulties maintaining relationships, with partners, children and his wider family.
‘My first relationship, the second relationship, my third relationship – and you go, “Can I stop now? What am I doing wrong? What is it?” And my inability to communicate with my kids, to show the affection, to show the love for my children … It’s almost like your emotional process has just completely switched down. You don’t want to talk about nothing. You go out the back and you keep quiet …
‘I’ve lost my family. I think that this has affected me, because of my feelings, I don’t know how to feel. I do feel compassion, but as a survivor I don’t know how to feel for a family. And so I’ve got family members that I don’t even see.’
Hany received a compensation payment through a Western Australia government redress scheme and is seeking a settlement from the Catholic Church. He reported his abusers to police several years ago and has become estranged from relatives and other in his community as a result. The police are yet to take any action.
Despite appearances, the impact of the abuse doesn’t lessen, he said.
‘There are moments where I’m a shell of an individual. Where things happen where you could be driving a positive message and all of a sudden you become a shell. Your body starts to tingle and you feel dirty, you feel like you want a shower. You feel like you lose your self-worth, your self-esteem …
‘I might present it here pretty well, I can present it okay but there’s times when I can’t communicate, when I have to close the door, when I have to go for a walk or I have to be with myself and in my own silence, because of this damage.
‘It has lasting effects. I don’t think I’ll ever overcome those effects.’