Harry Stanley's story

The life of Harry, now in his late 40s, seems shaped by four fundamentals. 'We were a very, very strict Catholic family: whatever mass was on, we were there ... My father was physically abusive – I would get belted badly, to the extent I wouldn't be able to walk and go to school next day … My mother was an absolute narcissist, I don't remember her ever saying that she loved me.

'And I was sexually abused by four different perpetrators between the ages of nine and 14.'

Harry believes he was the only Catholic at his state primary school in Victoria. That made him a target for his teacher, a Seventh Day Adventist. 'He used to tell me that Catholics were evil, that they go to hell because they worship idols, and have statues in their churches.

'Then one day he anally raped me at school. I remember going home and taking underwear out of my drawer, getting changed, and taking the underwear I'd been wearing that had blood on it back to school, and throwing it in one of the bins.'

The teacher told Harry if he told anyone, the same thing would happen to his younger sister. 'And also I was afraid of my parents; I thought I'd done something wrong and that I would be punished further.'

The second incident took place when Harry, aged 11, was having classes with the parish priest prior to taking Holy Communion. 'One day Father William came to our house to instruct me. In the carport he hugged me and, as he hugged me, he put his hand down the back of my pants and digitally raped me.

'Then he told me that I was a bad child, that I would go to hell – and that my parents would be so disappointed in me.'

A short time later, Harry was invited to visit a local monastery with a view to becoming an altar boy. 'My mother had this wonderful dream that I was going to become a priest, so when one of the Brothers invited me, she agreed.'

In the event, another Brother – 'a creepy man, short and constantly drooling' – was allocated as a guide. 'He showed me around … he took me into an area beside the altar, saying he was going to show me how to ring the bell properly. And then he raped me.

'He told me that pain and suffering were the way to get closer to God, and that what had happened would get me closer.

'And he told me that my parents wouldn't understand.'

That seemed manifest when they arrived to collect their son. 'My mother was so excited, because I had been given a book on joining the Brothers. I remember my father saying, "You should really consider this, you'd make your mother so proud!"

'I've still got the book at home. I've never opened it.'

When Harry started at a high school, he was initially enthusiastic: 'It was very strict, academically strong, had a strong emphasis on religious education and had lots of options with sport.' But when he was 14, a new teacher arrived.

'Brother Francis was friendly and nice, and like a real father figure. I did well in all the subjects he taught …

'One day he called me out of class and sat me down in the corridor, which was empty. He said, "Look, I've noticed that you've started shaving. You probably notice that your body is going through a few other changes; at lunch or after school I'll be in my room if you want to come and I'll explain more to you”.

'Then he put his hand in between my legs and started fondling me. I choked up and was mortified. He just walked back into class with a big smile on his face.'

This time Harry decided to enlist help. 'I went home and told my parents that Brother Francis had sexually abused me. My mother said, "How dare you make up lies about Brother Francis? He's a man of God – as if he would do anything like that!"

'And so I got belted and grounded for a month.'

Francis tried the same thing a week later. This time Harry resisted him and called Francis a poofter. He says he was always in trouble after that.

'He became the nastiest guy … He used to call me to the front of the class, tell me to put my hands out, and strap me with the gat, which was a thick leather strap … After the gat, you couldn't write. You'd be riding your bike home at night and they'd still be swollen.'

The abuse wasn't just physical or sexual. 'He told me I would end up marrying a slut, I wouldn't know who the father of my children was, and I would go to hell.'

Home was no relief. 'My mother didn't speak to me for three months – and when she did, I wasn't Harry, I was called "Arsehole".’

Looking back, Harry concludes this was the worst period of his youth. 'Though that was the most minor of the abuses, that was the one that had the biggest impact. I was in constant fear all that year.

'I realised I was alone. No one was going to look after me, no one was going to care for me.'

Harry lost his faith in early in his teens, though he remained outwardly observant, hoping to please his parents. That didn't work out: in later years they hated his wife, refused to acknowledge his children and, when he became an activist exposing child sexual abuse, rejected him completely and broke off all contact.

'When my family heard about it, they said, "You've shamed the family and the Church by coming out and saying this. This is not stuff you should talk about. It was so long ago and if anything did happen, which we don't believe it did, then just get over it".’

Harry investigated the first man who abused him, and learned that he was dead; he believes the Brother at the monastery is also deceased. However, he did contact the police about Father William and Brother Francis. He and many others gave evidence at the trial of William, who pleaded guilty to multiple child sexual assaults and received a heavy jail sentence.

Francis was also jailed after pleading guilty to 10 child sexual assaults.

Harry, who has made several suicide attempts, continues to support fellow victims and expose abusers. But it's a struggle.

'Every doctor and psychologist I've seen has said that I won't work again. I have days when I can function and do anything. And I have other days that I can't even read a newspaper. I just can't function. Unfortunately, I don't know when those days are going to fall.'

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