‘It took me 55-odd years to finally come here and let it out, because every time I tried, people just called me dirty names … No one believed ya. I want everyone to understand, it does happen.’
Jerome was adopted at birth in the late 1950s. After his adoptive mother died, his adoptive father remarried. His stepmother didn’t want either of the adopted children, so she waited until her husband went to work one day and ‘next thing … signed all the orphan papers and put us in [a boys’ home] in regional New South Wales.
‘Dad came home from work. “Where’s my darling boys?” Where are we? Locked up. No one found us. I don’t know how I got out … The police were brought into it, looking for us … and no one could find us.’
Their father searched every day until he found them.
Jerome told the Commissioner, ‘They raped me in there. I can still feel it … getting dragged down this hallway by my hair … on someone’s lap, sitting there … I remember all of that’.
Eventually the boys returned to live with their father and stepmother. When Jerome was about six or seven, ‘the court sent me to [the school] because I was in a bad way. Of course I was going to play up’. Jerome was sent to a boarding school for boys with educational difficulties, run by St John of God.
Jerome and the other boys were physically and sexually abused at the school. ‘I can remember the big thick belt they wore, the black one … had a brass buckle on it … We used to have to clean them every arvo … and they used to bash you with it … I’m not lying. I don’t care if you believe me or not. I’ve been through hell and back.’
Jerome recalled being pulled out of the classrooms, ‘and kicked and bashed and locked in a wire cage in boiling hot sunlight all day … like a dog box … [with] a bucket in that corner, of water, and a bucket over there to do your poo, and then people started doing what I did after a while, started fighting back, so they locked us in the pen. I called it “the sweat box”’.
At night Jerome would lie in bed and ‘hear kids yelling, “Leave us alone” and that. Everyone started yelling and crying … A lot of nightmares’. He remembers being taken into a room and sexually abused by priests who had connections with the school, and he believes that the children were drugged to make it easier for the priests to abuse them.
‘The first thing that came in my head when I started going right back in my memory, first thing popped up … that little white pill, some little white pill every night with dinner, or just a bit after.’
If parents visited the school they were supposed to let the school know in advance, but Jerome’s father made a surprise visit one day and discovered his son in the ‘sweat box’. ‘He went off his rocker’ and called the police. ‘No one remembers that. No files existed … Dirty rotten mongrels.’
Jerome went home to live with his father and stepmother, leaving school at 15 when he got an apprenticeship. He has had problems at work and throughout his adult life because he doesn’t like being touched by anyone. The abuse he experienced in his childhood also impacted on his relationships with people.
‘I missed out on mates and that because I couldn’t hang out with any guys or anyone. I [have been] a loner most of my life … I keep very quiet. I don’t want people to harass me. I can’t handle being … hassled. Too many nightmares. I’ve been like this all my life.’
When he was younger, Jerome tried to take his own life several times. He used drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, but he became ill with serious heart problems and ‘gave everything away about 20 years ago and I won’t go back.’
Jerome has a partner now but finds that he yells at her a lot. He would like to try counselling to help him with that.
Jerome was distraught after being confronted by people in his town. ‘A couple of people up there abuse me and call me “Pervert. Rock spider” and that, and I said, “Pardon you, I was a victim. You keep doing that I’ll get you for slander, mate”. I broke down in tears … cried my eyes out. They all believe what they believe, these people.’
Other people where Jerome lives have been incredibly supportive. ‘All my mates have cried for me now. Since this started, everyone … I didn’t know I had so many friends who care about me. “Anything you need, just ask” … People want to help me because it finally came out. I haven’t told really no one [before].’
Jerome came to the Royal Commission because ‘I want people to hear about it and I want no one else to cop what I copped, and all the other boys and girls … I’ve been through hell and back. I seen hell … So I know what I’m talking about …
‘Please find some way of stopping it, mate, because it’s going to keep happening.’