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Ivan Peter's story

As the years went on, that voice in Ivan’s head – echoes of the warnings the Brother gave him – got stronger. He felt brainwashed. ‘All these thoughts are coming in. Don’t tell anybody, don’t tell anybody, don’t tell anybody.’

It was the early 1960s, and Ivan was nine years old when he and his brother were taken into care. His extremely aggressive, alcoholic father beat his mother and the children regularly.

Ivan wet the bed, so most nights he was made to sleep outside in the chook shed. This is where police found him after neighbours heard yet another violent incident break out and called them to the home.

He didn’t wet himself all night in the warm, safe police cell. The next day he and his brother were made wards of the state. Although he wet the bed at the receiving home, he didn’t get into trouble for it.

A couple of weeks later, they were moved to a Christian Brothers orphanage in regional Victoria. Some of the Brothers would walk around the dormitories at night, select a child, and take him outside. He remembers some boys would be crying when they returned.

When Ivan was 11 Brother Fletcher took him into his bedroom. He ordered Ivan to take his pyjama pants off, then tried to touch his penis. Ivan got really scared, and ran away. Fletcher didn’t try anything with Ivan after that, but another Brother soon did.

Brother Cummings was in his early 30s, and coached the athletics team Ivan was on. He would pull Ivan close, and rub his erect penis against Ivan’s backside. Ivan was always wearing clothes, but Cummings would have his penis exposed.

This happened around twice a week for a few years, and there was a couple of instances in the swimming pool too. One time Cummings got Ivan alone in his car, and rubbed Ivan’s penis through his pants.

‘There was one incident, I was playing in the playground ... He called me over, so I came over, and I might of got a couple of feet from him, whatever, and he grabbed me, and he had his penis out. And he grabbed me and sort of half pulled my pants down. And I fought him and I ran away.’

Although Ivan knew nothing of sex he came to understand what Cummings was doing to him was very wrong. This abuse stopped around the time Ivan reached puberty.

Ivan didn’t tell anyone what had happened to him, even the other boys, though Cummings had a bit of a reputation for such behaviour. He was too frightened of the Brothers, who often punished them with beatings. Cummings had once hit him so hard across the head that his ear rang for a week. His parents never visited, so he couldn’t disclose the abuse to them.

All this time, Ivan was still wetting the bed most nights. Any boy who did this had to stand holding his wet sheets up, or put them on his head, and was marched naked to the (usually freezing) showers. Ivan hated having to be naked in front of everyone, and the way the Brothers would watch him washing himself.

When Ivan came home late from an athletics event one night, he stopped at Cummings’ room to show him his medals. He saw a young boy lying in the Brother’s bed. ‘To me then, that didn’t mean anything, because I knew nothing about sex at that age’, but now he wonders who this child was, and what happened to him.

Ivan left the orphanage and found work. For a while he stayed with Walter, a local man who had adopted other boys from the home, and ‘I think he actually guided me on the right track’. Given his upbringing, he wonders ‘why aren’t I a drug person, an alcoholic, a street person, a violent man? I can’t answer that question. And I’m referring back to Walter’.

His experiences of abuse, both before and in the orphanage, impacted on his parenting. ‘I was very, very protective with my children. Very protective. I had a lot of comments, “Oh gee, your kids can’t do this, your kids can’t do that. Blah blah blah. You know, all the kids are doing this”. No, they’re my children. I want to know where my children are.’

Ivan attended a reunion of the orphanage in the 1980s. Cummings was there, and came up to introduce himself to Ivan and his family. Ivan tried not to engage with Cummings, and to keep his children from speaking with the Brother. Later, Ivan’s wife asked him what had been going on, and he disclosed the abuse for the first time to her.

In recent times, Ivan has engaged with a support organisation and other services. He has given a detailed statement to police, who have also spoken to other victims, and a criminal trial was pending when he met with the Commissioner.

Ivan is seeking compensation from the Christian Brothers and provided a written submission regarding redress and civil litigation. Amongst his recommendations were: a special card for care leavers to access medical and other supports; education of health care professionals regarding care leavers’ needs; a national compensation fund; and that compensation ‘be managed by care leavers as they see fit’.

He also noted the limited literacy and numeracy skills of many care leavers ‘should be acknowledged as the norm rather than the exception’, and the government and other service providers should make provisions for this.

‘This is a burden off my shoulders now. That little thing at the back saying “Don’t say anything, don’t say anything”, it’s no longer. It’s no longer going to be there. You’ve said what you had to say.’

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