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Jarvis Michael's story

‘When they diagnosed me as dyslexic, I went home to look it up in the dictionary – but, of course, I couldn’t find it.’

Jarvis got that diagnosis when he was 48. Now in his mid 50s, he has a successful craft business, and is a wizard with machinery; but he still can’t read or write.

It was his early struggle with literacy that led to the abuse that continues to haunt Jarvis. ‘My parents tried five state schools … I remember Dad saying, “You’re not stupid, you’re just lazy - It’s so simple!”’

‘Then when I was 10, I came to a De La Salle school.’

Waiting there was Brother William. ‘He saw me come out of the classroom upset in my first week and he put his arm around me, and I thought, “Well, this bloke’s genuine”. He seemed to care.’

‘But he just wanted to do what he wanted to do to me when he got hold of me on my own.’

What William wanted to do was get Jarvis to stand on a table on the pretense of ‘cleaning the windows … and then he’d put his hand up my shorts’.

‘He used to say to me, “If you tell anyone, the Devil will get you. You will go to hell”.’

The genital fondling continued weekly for the next year. Jarvis had no one to turn to. When he tried to report the abuse to his form teacher, he was flogged with a leather strap. On another occasion, this same teacher punched Jarvis in the face. Jarvis says the principal ‘rang up my mother and said I got hurt playing football’.

‘Kids used to talk in the playground about Brother William. The older kids used to write stuff on the walls about him. But I couldn’t read it.

One day when Jarvis was delivering milk bottles, an unknown clergyman called to Jarvis from the kitchen. ‘This fellow called me in, took me upstairs, did with me what he wanted to do, and then told me to go and say the Lord’s Prayer a 100 times, and a Hail Mary 200 times.

‘It was like I had done something wrong!

‘By the end of that year I stopped responding. Didn’t want to talk to anyone, get involved in anything. I was so on guard.’

During his second year at the school, Jarvis found a way to forestall William’s assaults. A boy in his class had severe dermatitis that caused copious skin shedding. William didn’t like to come near him, so Jarvis stuck closely to him. ‘He didn’t know it but he was like my protector. If he flaked all over me, I loved it!’

Jarvis left school at 16 and managed to build a business despite his inability to read and write. His marriage didn’t last, but he has two adult children who he says have ‘been his rock’, along with his own siblings.

However, sometimes even these supports haven’t been enough. Some years ago Jarvis was severely injured during a suicide attempt.

Jarvis is being treated for ADHD, PTSD and anxiety. Recently he has begun seeing a psychiatrist who has helped him to develop a more positive frame of mind. This has finally enabled Jarvis to tell his parents about the long ago traumatic abuse, and speak with lawyers about taking action against the school.

He hasn’t yet been able to talk to his children: ‘I’d like to tell them one day but I don’t know how to go about that.’

When the work of the Royal Commission began appearing in news broadcasts, Jarvis took heart. ‘The word “survivor” kept coming up, so I thought, "Well, that’s me. And I’m not going to let them beat me".’

Jarvis said to the Commissioner, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to be able to just write things down. I’ve never done it – but I have survived.’

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