Hugo was one of a group of people who brought criminal charges in the mid-2000s against a Marist Brother, Barton Henckel, who was a teacher at Hugo’s high school.
‘I feel like we … were part of the closure for a lot of people … because I feel like [we] put Brother Henckel in jail … I was quite proud of that.’
Once the criminal proceedings were completed, Hugo began civil action against the Marists.
‘It was a long drawn out process … went on for years and years and years … The sum obviously wasn’t what it should have been.’
During a Royal Commission public hearing that looked at Marist Brothers schools in three Australian states, it became clear that the authorities at Hugo’s school had known that Henckel was abusing boys.
‘The Royal Commission … has now exposed that [the school] knew that Brother Henckel was doing this. Where, when we settled, they [said] they didn’t know … So for us, that was a big breakthrough.’
Hugo is seeking further compensation because the initial settlement was based on lies.
‘It’s … about the closure because we all knew that Brother Henckel did those crimes. But for them to say to all of us that the school didn’t know what was going on, we felt disappointed. We felt ripped off. So the Royal Commission work has exposed that. We are truly grateful.’
Hugo believes that the single most significant effect of the abuse was the impact it had on his schooling.
‘It’s definitely obviously affected my schooling, there is no doubt. And … that is where I’m most angry, that I missed out on a good education. Because [the abuse] was taking your mind off what you should have been doing.
‘And of course, looking back, there’s all the self-doubt and how bad you feel about yourself, all that sort of stuff, and self-confidence goes out the window.’
Hugo said he was ‘always on guard’ against Henckel.
‘He would pluck certain members out of the class … You’d think you were in your normal class and you’re plucked out … and that’s when the molestation would occur.
‘Your parents think you’re at school doing, say, maths or science, and you’re in next door getting fondled.’
Hugo has difficulty trusting people and has used alcohol to ‘numb what was going on’.
‘I’m angry … it goes internal … and then I release that through drinking. I still do. I still numb the senses to this day.’
‘I’d love to burn the school down. I’d love to deface things but I just know it’s not the right thing to do.’
He sees a counsellor regularly because the sessions help him manage the effects of the trauma he experienced. ‘Good to talk about it with a third party. You know, get it off your chest and get their feedback on it … It’s quite hard.’
Hugo remains in touch with other students from the school. ‘Hopefully they have come to talk to you … There wouldn’t be a single person in my year who wouldn’t know about Brother Henckel, but … it was that power, that authority. You weren’t allowed to speak about it to powers above or other teachers.’
Hugo didn’t disclose his sexual abuse as an adult until he told his wife just before beginning criminal action against the Brother.
‘My wife says I’m quite emotionless and I think some of that has come from my past … I’m scarred from that.’
Hugo’s wife has been his main support throughout the years of criminal and civil proceedings.
‘That’s taxing on family life … it’s stressful … But we’re going to keep pursuing it because you can’t stop now … We still feel like the lies have still been covered, which they are … until that [final settlement] announcement, we still feel upset.’
Hugo is also a watchful and observant father.
‘It certainly made me more aware as a father now, looking at my children’s education. Just looking for signs … taking single children out of school, taking them on camps or weekends, or special treatment – to me that’s a warning sign, an absolute warning sign.’
Hugo’s family provide him with ongoing stability and comfort.
‘Going home to your kids everyday – it’s great. That’s what life’s all about.’