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John's story

John hasn’t had a lot of success in his life. In part, that’s because he does not feel entitled to it. ‘If I can keep proving I’m a failure, it explains why I got treated the way I did’, he told the Commissioner.

‘I think as a child you naturally look at life that way. Obviously I was abused because there was something wrong with me. I was a bad boy. And that’s how I pictured it in my world –and I’m still trying to get rid of it today, that same feeling. I abused myself with alcohol, tried to drown it – but you can only pickle something so for long. Each time you push it down it’s got to come back up again.’

John’s abuse began in the family home, in Melbourne. His father, a violent alcoholic, believed John was the result of a brief relationship his wife had with another man. Though abusive to all his children, he reserved the worst of it for John, who he considered a ‘bastard’.

‘He zeroed in on me with a lot of verbal abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse’, John recalled.

In the mid-1960s when John was eight or nine he was put under a Care and Protection Order. He’d been running away from home and was caught stealing. Not long afterwards he had his first experience of institutionalisation. He was sent to a reception facility, where he spent three months waiting to be transferred to longer term residential care.

The facility was for boys much older than John. He found himself in a cell, with one small window. When he wanted to go to the toilet he had to bang on the door and wait for a security guard to open it. ‘It was a jail. Big thick doors like a jail … Big thick walls, and a solitary bed in the corner.’

At the start of Grade 6, John was sent to a Christian Brothers orphanage just outside Melbourne. His first year there ‘wasn’t too bad’.

In his second year, he found himself in a different dormitory, under the care of Brother Fencher. John was a chronic bed wetter, the result of stress and anxiety. One night he wet the bed and went to ask Brother Fencher for help. ‘He decided to have sex with me on his couch.’

Fencher also sexually assaulted John in the shower one day when no one else was around. He masturbated while fondling John. ‘Even today I have trouble having a shower’, John told the Commissioner. ‘Showering on a regular basis is something I really have to push myself to do.’

John suspects there was further abuse, though he doesn’t really remember it. He has flashbacks of the abuse by Brother Fencher and another incident that happened in an institution he stayed at later, where he was sexually assaulted by an older boy.

John had placements at three institutions altogether, and experienced physical and sexual abuse at each. He returned home several times but his father’s violence made it impossible to stay.

As a 14-year-old, he lived on the streets where he was sexually assaulted again. He has few distinct memories from this time. ‘They sort of blur into one another because there was very little time in my childhood where there wasn’t any drama or any pain, pain, pain.’

John has suffered from anxiety and depression throughout his life. He’s made efforts to educate himself but hasn’t managed to complete courses and gain certification and hasn’t been able to stay in steady employment. He’s married and had three children, but his marriage ended some years ago.

‘I can remember the best thing my wife said to me after [over 10] years of marriage; she said “I don’t know who I’m married to”’, John recalled. ‘She got lonely. I think she felt isolated … I drank a lot.’

As a child, John told the nurse at the orphanage that Brother Fencher had made his bottom sore. She scolded him for making up stories and he didn’t disclose the abuse again.

‘Because it’s such abnormal behaviours to most in society at that time, you don’t know what’s happening to you and it’s very hard for a child to describe it.’

He told his wife in the 1980s, but felt she didn’t understand. Recently he had been getting regular counselling that he described as ‘brilliant’. He also reported the abuse to the Victorian police’s child sexual abuse taskforce, which has been a very positive experience.

Living now on a disability pension, John worries about his future. ‘I think my health issues at the moment is probably the most concerning thing … I feel my body breaking down … I think that’s through anxiety and the constant stress. …

John has been closely following the work of the Royal Commission. It led him to think that an education campaign was urgently needed. ‘It could be a preventive measure for making people more aware. I think we need to have a different mindset with a lot of the people who are in charge … I think they’re just not getting the message.’

At one public hearing John had heard a Church representative say that because the victim had forgiven the perpetrator, he’d believed there was no need for further action. ‘When I saw that I thought this guy just doesn’t get it.’

John told the Commissioner, ‘The thing is with stealing is that you can lose the money and always get some more. But with that type of abuse, once your spirit, your essence, is stolen – I personally believe in my case it’s never come back.’

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