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Justin Michael's story

‘I don’t care who knows. I want the truth out there. I’m not ashamed any more, I’m not embarrassed any more. I’m quite angry in fact.’

Justin has struggled his whole adult life with the impacts of the brutal physical abuse he suffered as a child. But it’s only recently that he’s come to realise that many of these abuses had a sexual aspect to them as well.

The perpetrators were the Catholic priests and Brothers who ran Justin’s boarding school in regional New South Wales in the 1960s. Justin arrived at the school when he was a bright, naive 12-year-old.

‘I had a pretty rosy view of life but that all changed when I went to boarding school. It was just a cold, angry, dark, lonely place. And scary.’

Many of the Brothers and priests were ‘dour, angry men’ who seized any excuse to beat the boys. Justin was strapped and caned for infringements such as ‘talking after lights out’ and ‘smiling in church’.

The most irrational and violent of all the offenders was Brother Russo. ‘He flogged me on the bare backside for a full year for nothing. Regularly. And it was definitely a sexual thing for him.’

Brother Russo would leave his door open so that all the boys in the dorm could hear him belting Justin or some other unfortunate victim. He liked to push his furniture aside first so that he could get a good run up. Several times he hit Justin so hard that Justin’s ‘backside would bleed’.

This happened at least once every two weeks whether Justin had misbehaved or not. On some nights, as Justin lay silent and terrified in his bed, Brother Russo would barge into the dorm, accuse Justin of talking after lights out and drag him off for another belting. ‘It was just an excuse to see my bare arse and cause me pain.’

As well as Brother Russo there was Brother Wilmot, who would twist the boys’ nipples and squeeze their genitals if they got an answer wrong in class; and Brother Lowe from the infirmary who prescribed suppositories for almost any ailment, from headaches to foot blisters. ‘Whatever you went there for you got a bloody suppository. Lie down with your pants down and he’d put a tablet up your bum.’

Justin stopped visiting the infirmary pretty quick, but the other abuse continued for years. It ended after Justin’s father saw some of the cuts and bruising on Justin’s legs and backside and moved him to a state school closer to home. They never talked about the abuse.

Justin’s life has been a struggle from that time on. ‘Some people survived these places’, he said. ‘I didn’t.’

‘When I was 17 I drank meself into a coma on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. And I got sick of the hangovers. Just got sick of being sick. I discovered marijuana, and I’ve had a chronic marijuana habit ever since. I still smoke it.’

At 19 he fell head over heels in love with a girl. The relationship didn’t work out and he’s not had another one since. ‘If a girl starts fancying me I get quite angry. Inside I get angry and make excuses and run away.’

Work has been tough to hold onto. He’s now in serious financial strife which he could have avoided years ago if he’d invested in property. Back then he had the money and the opportunity but was too scared to take the necessary risks. Instead he took the bank’s advice and invested in shares. A few years later the bank informed him that he’d lost most of his money in the GFC.

‘I’ve grown up really scared of failure. Just really scared of the future, really scared whatever. I had real trouble getting work … Really struggling with self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and just basically really scared. I’ve been terrified all me life.’

Justin’s foster children kept him going for many years – ‘put a bit of purpose in me life, because I was pretty lost and alone’ – but lately things have gotten much tougher. The change came when Justin saw a newspaper article about a Catholic priest who’d been convicted for ‘doing exactly the same as Brother Russo did to me’. Suddenly Justin recognised that he’d been sexually as well as physically abused.

‘I was suicidal for weeks after that. That’s why I rang the rape crisis hotline. I was so desperate. I really sunk into a bad depression. I started having nightmares and flashbacks of the actual assaults. And that’s 42 years later. I don’t understand how the mind works, honestly. How it can be stored away and locked away for so long and then suddenly come out to bite you.’

Justin knows that he needs help and he wants to get it. Unfortunately, he keeps crashing into obstacles. He got a referral from his GP to see a psychologist but the psychologist turned out to be a Catholic who said she’d never heard of the Royal Commission and recommended that he pray. When he went back to the GP seeking another referral, the GP told him he’d have to wait 12 months.

Meanwhile, Justin isn’t getting the financial help he needs because he can’t bring himself to visit Centrelink.

‘I do not deal with Centrelink because they make me suicidal. I go near Centrelink, I feel like I’m totally worthless … And I’m nearly broke. So I don’t know, I’m going to be homeless soon. I’m just going to be totally, totally devoid of any income. And that’s mainly because, I go near Centrelink and I start having a panic attack … Ultimately I need someone to escort – take me along to Centrelink and talk for me.’

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