During his first term at a Catholic boarding school in New South Wales, Jerome was woken in the night by the assistant dormitory master, Bruce Kelly, and told to come to his office. Kelly was also Discipline Master and Jerome was expecting to be caned for an unknown misdemeanour. He arrived to find his bunk mate Nathan already in Kelly’s office.
Kelly told Jerome that he suspected Nathan had worms and he needed Jerome there as witness for an examination. Kelly then told Nathan to take off his pants and bend over, and he turned off the light and shone a torch at Nathan’s anus, saying this would ‘draw out the worms’. Afterwards, Kelly said he would need to check Jerome too, but Jerome refused and quickly turned on the lights, leaving the room and returning to his bunk.
Jerome told the Commissioner that he and Nathan never spoke about the abuse and he couldn’t say anything to anyone else because he feared retribution from Kelly and ridicule from other boys. ‘It was the first couple of weeks of Year 7, like kids were already getting stirred for their looks and different things as it was, so like there’s no way you wanted something like that getting around.’
In addition to his other duties, Kelly taught art in a room well away from the rest of the school. In his classes, boys were made to take off their shirts and shorts and stand in their underpants with an apron over them. Jerome said Kelly did this so he could ‘perve on everyone’s bum’.
Another of Kelly’s duties involved him supervising boys’ showering, during which he always wore dark sunglasses. Jerome told the Commissioner he had no experience of priests or Brothers at the school sexually abusing anyone, but they were witnesses to Kelly supervising the showers and would have known about his reputation.
In 2013, Jerome made the first disclosure about the abuse to his brother. He also told his parents who believed him. Soon afterwards Jerome told his partner and was disappointed at her response. ‘She didn’t really understand. She didn’t think it was much at all but I was devastated.’
Later in 2013, and now 30 years after the abuse, Jerome reported Kelly to NSW Police. He was pleased with the respect they showed in taking his statement. However, he was disappointed when the detective in charge said that he was only a witness to the abuse and that unless Nathan came forward, no charges could be laid.
When police contacted Nathan he told them he had no recollection of the abuse, but after speaking to Jerome a short time later said he did recall the incident, and then verified Jerome’s account to police. At the same time he said he didn’t wish to make a statement himself. Sometime later, Jerome was contacted by detectives who told him they were investigating Kelly for multiple sex offences related to his time at the boarding school.
Jerome said the incident with Kelly that night had affected him deeply. ‘It’s had a psychological effect on me as far as an image in my mind, an image of something that I didn’t want to see, a graphic image. I think it’s made me question my sexuality as well, that image that I saw. So it’s had a profound effect on me.’
In his late 20s, Jerome attempted suicide and throughout his life had significant problems with binge drinking. While he’d done quite well at school and been in continuous employment, he said he always had the sense he could have been more successful in life and had wasted opportunities because of his alcohol abuse.
Only in the last week had he disclosed the abuse and sought help from his local doctor, partly as a result of preparing to tell his story to the Royal Commission. ‘It’s still there, but I’m a lot better than I have been, since working through all this.’