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James's story

James tried several times to tell his mother about the sexual abuse he was experiencing at school. The abuse started in the early 1960s when James was eight years old. The abusers were several Christian Brothers at his primary school in Sydney. When he moved to a Jesuit secondary school, he was further abused by a Jesuit Priest.

James’s mother refused to believe him. She told him he was dreaming. Some years later, he tried again to tell her and this time an argument ensued between his parents.

He doesn’t remember the names of the Christian Brothers who abused him, but James recalls clearly the layout of the Brothers’ residence. ‘I can tell you exactly where it was.’ He was taken back to the Brothers’ quarters, usually after sport. ‘They started off touching my genitals and after that it was oral sex.

'There’d be two or three of them. Some would just sit back with their glasses of red wine and watch.’

The sexual abuse continued throughout James’ primary school years. James told the Commissioner that when he moved to secondary school a priest there started with touching and feeling and ‘then it went on to become more intimate’. He remembers the priest as being an aggressive person. ‘He used to walk around the classroom with a metal ruler. If someone wasn’t paying attention, he’d whack them on the back of the head. I remember kids with their heads split.’

James said sexual abuse was endemic in the school, and that on two occasions he was raped in the change rooms by boys his own age while the priest looked on. ‘He’d be there, basically saying this is all right, just go ahead and do it.’

It was James’s impression that other boys at the school were being abused, but no one talked about it. He thought that three or four other altar boys were sexually abused by the priest. ‘It was touching and then it was sexual activity in the chapel.’

After leaving school at 14, James ended up ‘as a street kid up at the Cross’.

This period in his life coincided with discovering details of his birth family. ‘The whole thing, from the day I was born till I was 14, in my mind, I’d come to an end. I fell apart.’ Intervention by staff from Wayside Chapel helped him find his feet. Later he went on to further education and secure employment.

When he was 21, James started counselling. ‘Over my life, I’ve attempted suicide four times’, he said. ‘That’s the monkey that sits on my shoulder.’ In the mid-2000s, he weaned himself off the high levels of medication that he’d taken for 26 years. The most successful therapy he found was an intensive program through a private hospital.

‘I was finally able to express all the anger in a safe environment.’

James married twice and had a number of relationships, but doesn’t consider himself very successful at maintaining them. ‘I have a lot of trouble trusting anyone.’

He hasn’t considered approaching the Catholic Church for restitution. ‘I don’t want to go cap in hand to them. The Church has never apologised. They destroyed a generation and have never shown any remorse.’

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