Jonah’s early schooling in Brisbane in the late 1980s was in the state school system but at 10 years old he became a boarder at a Catholic boys’ school. There was a lot of punishment handed out at the school, always involving the strap. Jonah’s dormitory was one of the smaller ones, located away from the main dorms.
‘I remember one of the Brothers, he was always the scariest … just his demeanour, his looks … at night times when it was lights out he used [to] sit on the edge of the beds to tuck kids in.
‘At the time … I just thought this was the done thing, like a father coming to tuck his son into bed. But after a while I just noticed kids were crying after he supposedly tucked them in. I didn’t think nothing of it. I thought he was just there helping the boys overcoming homesickness or whatever.’
Then one night the Brother sat on the edge of Jonah’s bed and tucked him in.
‘He was rubbing my back. That happened a couple of times … I can’t remember how long into it but one night his hands come under the blanket just started rubbing my leg. I remember he was whispering, “Everything is going to be all right, I’m here for you, I’m always here for you, if you ever need anything I’m the person to come and see”.’
Jonah rolled away from the Brother and made himself small on the opposite edge of the bed.
‘I just remember him rubbing my back and on my bum … his fingers trying to crawl between, wedge his way between my legs towards my front part and I remember, for dear life, just clenching my legs as tight as I could.’
Jonah’s resistance was enough for the man to stop.
‘That only happened [a few times] it didn’t go any further than that … I basically wouldn’t let him, I tried my best anyway. I curled up into a ball as tight as, and stayed that way till he left … I’m pretty sure he had his selected few ‘cause they tended to be all the same ones … He couldn’t get any further with me so he stopped it with me.’
At the time Jonah only talked about his abuse with his best friend who was also being abused by this man.
The Brother kept punishing Jonah though. On one occasion Jonah was punished severely with the strap and, because he attempted to get away, the Brother pushed Jonah in between his legs to hold him still and kept whipping Jonah’s hand with the strap.
‘He was getting off on it. The more I squirmed around the more he was getting off. I just remember he had his hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t scream out and he was basically trying to have sex with me but with clothes on.’
The Brother also had pornographic magazines in his waiting room. Jonah remembers, ‘looking at them going, “What the hell is this?”’ He was still about 10 or 11 years old.
Jonah advanced in his schooling and moved schools. From Year 8 onwards he boarded at a much larger Anglican high school for boys. In this school the power and control was handed to senior students and the abuse came from them.
‘If you supposedly did something wrong … you spin [a wheel] and whatever it lands on you got it [the punishment]. And some of these punishments were like sexual … one of them just for example, they had to lie you down while they put something up your bum.’
Jonah believes that the teachers knew about the wheel but that they didn’t understand what punishments were meted out. Only students understood the code created by the three or four main instigators of the punishments.
‘They were very sadistic and they loved it. They definitely got off on it … sometimes in front of everyone.’
When Jonah was assaulted he bled from his anus.
‘I know there was a lot of bleeding … I remember a couple of times … a few of my mates just sitting on the ground in the showers bawling their eyes out trying to clean their anus because it was bleeding … When it happened to me, I didn’t seek help from the nurse because I didn’t want to get in trouble.’
The abuse stopped when he became a day student but Jonah’s grades went downhill as did his behaviour.
‘Totally went off the rails. I started drinking at school … I was smoking weed there. Being a class clown … I was put on punishment … and anything I did I was just punished for.’
He was out of school drinking alcohol when the police picked him up. The school called in his parents and in the meeting told his parents he would be expelled. Jonah was so upset that he came very close to telling the headmaster about the abuse he had suffered.
‘I remember saying, “You’re the one who did this to me”. I was almost going to say everything what happened to me. I just remember the headmaster, he just had no sympathy whatsoever … I was basically trying to tell him.’
Since then Jonah has had a difficult life and is currently serving a jail sentence. Speaking to the Commissioner was the first time he has talked about his abuse in detail. He only did so because he was encouraged by others who have opened up to the Royal Commission. He felt more comfortable ‘knowing other blokes, knowing other people who’ve gone through very similar things that I’ve gone through’ were speaking about their abuse.
‘It’s hard for me to open up … You keep everything bottled up. That’s one thing I definitely do, I know I bottle everything up until I explode … and that’s when I get into trouble.’
Jonah wants abusers to be weeded out of the school system and for children to be asked what is happening in their lives if they start exhibiting changed behaviour. He also wants children to be taken seriously.
‘If I actually knew at the time that people out there would believe me that it was going on and that it was a real thing maybe I would have but I just thought there’s no way in the world people would believe me.’