While his father was shuffling through paperwork on the other side of the room, seven-year-old Keegan was being sexually abused by the school principal, Brother Robert.
‘I was invited to go and sit on Brother Robert’s lap on the other side of the desk’, Keegan recalled. ‘And that’s when I was sexually assaulted. He fondled me.’
When Brother Robert was finished, he returned Keegan to his father. Keegan’s father had no idea that the abuse had happened, and Keegan didn’t tell him. Fear kept him quiet. Keegan was terrified of Brother Robert, and terrified of all the other teachers as well.
It was the early 1970s in regional New South Wales. Keegan’s school was run by a group of violent De La Salle Brothers who took pride in personally crafting the thick leather straps they used to beat the boys.
Keegan copped his fair share of beatings, but after that first incident behind Brother Robert’s desk, he was never touched in an overtly sexual way again. There was, however, a quasi-sexual incident that happened when Keegan was in Year 8.
‘That was at a swimming carnival where he spanked my bottom very hard for swimming breast stroke with the incorrect back-kick, in front of the whole school. And it was a very humiliating experience.’
In the years that followed, Keegan rarely spoke about the spanking incident, and he never spoke about the other incident. ‘I certainly never, ever told my father … And I don’t regret not telling him. I think he would feel horrible, that he was so close to the situation and unaware of it.’
The first person Keegan really opened up to was his wife. ‘And we’ve been together for [over 20] years, with ups and downs, and thick and thin.’
In the late 1980s, after seeing a newspaper article about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Keegan decided to ring up the hotline number that was included at the bottom of the article. Unfortunately, no one answered. The moment passed and Keegan, a young, busy father at the time, dropped the matter and got on with his life.
Recently, he again contemplated taking action, but when he learned that Brother Robert had died he saw no point in contacting police. As for suing the school or the De La Salle Brothers:
‘I have thought about it over the years, but with my limited legal knowledge I just thought there was no chance. I had, really, no evidence, and it was just my word, you know, and a long, long memory. I figure I’d be putting myself through trauma, having to stand in the witness box and try to recall something from decades before.’
Instead, Keegan is content to add his story to the weight of evidence collected by the Royal Commission.
‘It’s comforting to know that it’s been recognised and it’s being investigated. I think that that’s a really good thing. Obviously it’s like hindsight 20-20 vision – and it probably should have happened 30 years ago, but nevertheless it’s happening now. That’s really all I can add to it. You can’t undo things but you can acknowledge that they did happen.’