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Joey Brendan's story

Joey was born in the late 1950s, with disabilities that affect his motor functions and short term memory, and his capacity to comprehend and learn. His parents Norm and Hazel accompanied him when he spoke with the Commissioner.

Norm explained that Joey’s learning difficulties meant that when he was young ‘he wasn’t a very good student in a normal class, and he tended only to disrupt classes because of his lack of concentration’.

When Joey was almost 10 his parents sent him to a special school for boys with disabilities, and Norm remembers ‘we sent him there with a lot of hope in our hearts’. They believed a Catholic institution was supposed to be safe and Joey should have been in good hands.

The students stayed in dormitories at the St John of God school, and Joey would hear other boys screaming as staff came into their rooms and sexually abused them.

Joey was himself raped by Brother Fergal, who came to his bed and raped him. ‘He said “let’s have some fun”. Penis in backside. He said this wouldn’t hurt, it would be all right.’

Three or four other Brothers also sexually abused Joey in his bed, ‘but I can’t think of all the other names. I remember Brother Fergal because he was the head bloke that ran the school’. The Brothers would tell him to ‘just keep it to yourself’. He was frightened of them and ‘just couldn’t trust them’.

At the end of semester Joey was adamant that he never wanted to return to the school. ‘I come home from the school and I said to Mum and Dad “I don’t want to go back to that school”, but I didn’t say why.’

Although they didn’t know his reasons, Norm recalls ‘We didn’t want to put him through any more worry than we had to, and if he didn’t want to go we thought “well, what’s the point in sending him back? He’ll only be very unhappy there” ... We didn’t suspect anything’.

Around five years ago Joey, Norm and Hazel were watching television when a program discussing child sexual abuse came on. This was when Joey first disclosed his experiences at the school. ‘I said to Mum and Dad “that’s what they did to me” ... Penis in backside and that. ’

Hazel ‘was so disgusted when I found out – I haven’t been to church since. I won’t go to church, I won’t enter that church ... I don’t know what I would have done if I’d known years ago, when I was younger, but I’m getting too old now. I just hope something can be done to stop it.'

‘You put your child away, thinking they’re safe, and that’s what happens to them ... He hasn’t had a really good life – only the love he gets at home.'

Hazel has noticed that Joey ‘doesn’t trust men, he shivers when he sees them’. When they have tried to get respite care for him, ‘'cause he’s been with us all his life’ and they needed a break this has not worked out, as the carers working at the respite facility were male and he refused to return.

Speaking to the Commissioner was the first time the abuse had been formally reported. ‘It’s haunted me for years. Since I left that school. Just haunted me. And I just kept it to myself and didn’t tell anyone [authorities] until the Royal Commission come out.’

They have not reported to police or the organisation, and Norm discussed their reasons for this decision. ‘We didn’t feel that Joey was really up to going through a police investigation. And in all probability anyway, I don’t know whether Brother Fergal is still alive or not ... We didn’t go to anyone, we just discussed it amongst ourselves ... Of course, we didn’t realise there was going to be a Royal Commission.’

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