It was a shock to Kaleb as a 13-year-old when he arrived at a Catholic boarding school in Queensland and saw so few women. ‘As far as running things, it was very much a male-dominated place and when something happened to you, just man-up and put up with it.’ One Christian Brother was kind and comforting towards the boys, but the others he said were ‘evil’.
Looking back, he thought the Headmaster, Brother Declan, probably had a borderline personality disorder such were his random acts of violence and apparent enjoyment when hitting boys.
‘One day he could be smiling and happy with you and 10 minutes later he’d give you a belting with a big leather strap. Terrifying, ‘cause you never know when you are and when you’re not in trouble. You could be in the middle of a class with the teacher and he could just walk in and haul you out and you’d think, what have I done? Possibly nothing. He was a sick man.’
Within this environment, aggression was encouraged and Kaleb felt unable to disclose that he’d been sexually assaulted by two other students. ‘When you’re in boarding school and someone rapes you and they live there, you have to see them every day and you get raped every day. That’s what it feels like.’
Kaleb told the Commissioner that the boys who perpetrated the assaults were the same age as him and the abuse continued over two years until he pleaded with his mother to take him out of the school because of the Brothers’ physical beatings. ‘You were scared to tell, also because it wouldn’t be viewed as something that happened to you; it would be viewed as you being part of something that happened. I didn’t ask them to rape me, but to try and tell anyone that was a waste of time.’ Kaleb said he got some protection from a classmate he’d told because the boy was larger than the perpetrators and able to ward off trouble, however that boy couldn’t be with him all the time.
Apart from telling his friend, Kaleb didn’t disclose the sexual abuse until the early 2000s when he was 40 and had been married 10 years. He told his wife and was pleased she was understanding. In the years since leaving school, Kaleb built a successful career but in the late 2000s things started to unravel. ‘I broke down and couldn’t go on any longer. I’d gone 40 something years untreated and just denying it, and I just cracked.’
Kaleb was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and hospitalised with suicidal ideation. He said feelings of self-harm continued to the present day. In the intervening years he’d helped others and described the continuous struggle to access government mental health care and be taken seriously by health professionals.
Care, apart from being concentrated in large cities, was poor he thought in response to a person’s individual needs. Someone who was feeling suicidal was expected to drive six hours to an acute mental health facility and a person who wasn’t acutely suicidal found it almost impossible to access care. ‘It’s because there’s no coordination. You know, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand’s doing. Everyone’s competing because they’re all trying to get funding.’
In the mid-2010s, Kaleb was getting ready to attend a school reunion. ‘I was all keyed up ready to go right up till about a week before, then I hit a brick wall and started cutting, started hurting myself again, so I said, “No”, couldn’t do it … The thought of even going to the school is too much at this stage. I would like to think that one day I will get to that point but I don’t think I will. I just cannot look at those two guys.’
Kaleb had never approached the school for redress and didn’t think he would, though he’d recently received a letter from Catholic Church authorities outlining the work of the Royal Commission, and suggesting anyone who’d been sexually abused in one of their schools contact them.
‘I’ve never thought of myself as a victim’, Kaleb said. ‘[But I need] support. Give us some support and don’t be so bloody stingy about it. When we need somewhere safe to go, they say, “What do you want to be safe from?”. “You’re the mental health professional, you should know. I want to be safe from me”, ‘cause that’s when I’m nuts, when I start hurting myself. And I want to go somewhere safe. And they look at you and say, “You’re not sick enough”. That is the biggest problem - finding somewhere to go that’s safe, when you need to be safe. And it might only be for three or four days. All the mental health people I speak to say the same thing, that when they need help they can’t get it because they’re not sick enough. There’s not enough funding, there’s not enough beds.’