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James Philip's story

James spent half of his childhood at the Marist Brothers boys’ home in western Sydney. He was nine years old when his dad died in front of him. His mum then had a nervous breakdown, and was unable to care for him and his brothers, so they were placed into care. The youngest kids were returned to her sometime after, but the older ones never were.

It was the early 1960s, and there was a ‘real culture, within that institution, of child sexual abuse’. One of the Brothers would line the boys up naked and inspect them. James remembers ‘being held down by groups of boys, egged on by the Brother’ and ‘manually manipulated’.

During the weekends and holidays, the boys would be sent out to different foster placements. James was sexually abused in two of these placements, starting when he was around 11 years old, and continuing over three years. ‘I knew I was being sent out every fortnight for a weekend to be abused. And every holidays.’

James was placed with a middle-aged woman in Sydney’s lower north shore. She was extremely wealthy, and a member of a non-Christian faith. This situation was in stark contrast to the conditions at the boys’ home, and James wondered why the Brothers would send him to stay with someone who was not Catholic.

This carer slowly groomed James, and began sexually abusing him. The abuse shifted gradually, beginning with cuddling and eventually including intercourse. James believes her adult son was aware of what was happening.

‘When I refused to go out, and said I’m not going out there anymore, they then sent another boy out there ... He came back and told me then, in his case he actually saw it as a positive thing, you know, that he was basically getting sex.’

Another of his foster carers was a former merchant navy officer. This man would rape James anally and orally, and threaten him with his life. ‘The wife and the children would leave the house. They knew what was going on.’ James believes ‘the wife was leaving the house to protect her children’.

James reported the incidents of sexual abuse to a Brother at the home, while he was still under their care, however no action was taken.

Growing up in the home left him without confidence to face the world, and he sabotaged his last years at school so that he could stay there longer. ‘That’s the only environment I knew.’

James has never reported the people who abused him to police, and did not express a desire to do so. If still alive, both of them would be very elderly now. He has not taken any civil action against the home.

Increased awareness about female perpetrators of sexual abuse is something James feels strongly about. He believes there is a need for greater discussion and understanding of the impacts for boys who are sexually abused by women, as some people still see this abuse as being less damaging than that perpetrated by a man.

‘If you’re a male, and a woman has intercourse with you, then it’s, macho society says, “isn’t that a good thing?” But it’s not a good thing. It’s devastating, it is, but it’s discounted, so people say oh, you know, you can’t have been impacted by that.

‘Yes I was impacted by it. So it is horrendous, it’s wrong, but it is not given the same weighting ... I’m not saying every man would feel the same way. That’s how I felt. And I believe I would not be the only man who feels that.’

He would also like to see an increased understanding and response to those who collude in facilitating sexual abuse, such as the woman who left him alone with her husband (presumably knowing that abuse would occur). While understanding her desire to protect her own children, it is very challenging for James to know that she had exposed him to this man’s abuse.

Although he feels very strongly about responses to child sexual abuse, he has not been able to read reports from the Royal Commission as the content is ‘too personal’ for him. He feels more comfortable discussing the abuse now, and has been open about it in personal and professional contexts.

James spoke to the Commissioner about the impacts of the abuse on his life, including difficulty in developing relationships. He had to re-learn intimacy with women, and found it hard to trust anyone again.

His parenting was affected by reading stories that if someone had been abused ‘chances are, you’re going to abuse your children. That was the worst thing ... I thought, if I hug my kids, am I going to end up like people who are abusers? ... It took me ages to get past that.’

James has now had good adult relationships with women, and is close to his children. He would like to see more positive messages about people who have lived through abuse and are good parents and partners, and ‘what you can be, rather than what you are out of your past’.

He isn’t comfortable using either the term ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ for himself, as he feels both give some power or recognition to the perpetrator, though recognises that other people find these terms useful.

While acknowledging the impacts of the abuse, James likes who he has become. He went on to have a successful career, and is motivated by issues of social justice. His work with disadvantaged communities has provided him with a positive avenue for contributing to society – ‘I’ve tried to make it just a bit better’.

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