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Kurtis James's story

Near the end of primary school in the late 1980s, Kurtis won a scholarship to study at a Catholic boarding school in Sydney. One day during term when he was 11, he went with his friend Damien to visit the senior boarding school. As Damien went off to talk to someone, Kurtis was approached by a Year 12 student who took him into a room where there were two other older boys.

The boys told Kurtis they wanted to perform sex acts on him and, while two of them held him down and took his clothes off, the third boy undressed himself and put his penis near Kurtis’s mouth.

As Kurtis kicked and screamed someone came to the door and yelled out. This gave Kurtis the opportunity to get away. He ran out the door, found Damien and the two of them ran back to the junior boarding school.

At the time, Kurtis told Damien about what had happened but no one else. During the next holidays Damien told his mother about the incident while Kurtis was visiting.

Kurtis recounted to the Commissioner that Damien’s mother was ‘furious’ and contacted the principal of the school, Father Bellamy. Kurtis thinks a meeting might have been held but can’t recall any discussion about the incident. He doesn’t remember being questioned or counselled.

He believes however, from that time on, he was given ‘a free pass’ and allowed to misbehave, often without consequences.

He once asked to be strapped so he ‘could fit in’ with other boys. On one occasion he was given the task of digging a hole and then filling it back in.

‘And to me, that’s what I used to enjoy, 'cause I liked to be punished’, Kurtis said. ‘I always felt I needed to be punished.’

As part of his ‘free pass’, Kurtis ‘was the only kid that was allowed to do drugs’. The school organised for Kurtis to attend a local hospital’s drug and alcohol unit several times a week for counselling. While he was still at school, and then in later years, he started using cannabis and acid.

He doesn’t recall any discussions with school staff about his drug use, and doesn’t think his grandparents – his primary carers – were notified about it. During counselling at the hospital, he didn’t mention anything about what the older boys had done to him.

‘I didn’t want to tell anyone. I spent all my counselling time giving fake reasons. I knew they were fake, but I never actually knew why I was always giving fake reasons. I’d say that I couldn’t handle all the bullying that I was receiving, being homesick all the time, missing my grandmother, the pressure of failing, but I never actually got why I was saying all those things.

'I knew at the time they weren’t the reasons. I think in my own head and my own heart at the time, I genuinely believed I was just a bad egg and that’s why I did drugs.’

Except for two short periods, Kurtis continued substance use through his adult life. He gave up alcohol in the early 2000s, because he noticed it was making him aggressive and he was concerned at the example he was setting for his partner’s young children.

He said he didn’t trust men older than himself and this, combined with his substance use, made maintaining work difficult. He attempted to take his own life twice. He doesn’t believe he’s at risk of doing this again because the birth of his son a few years ago and looking after his partner’s children have made him think differently.

‘I looked at my son and I realised, "I’m going to die one day, I might as well just wait until it happens naturally".’

Kurtis’s partner, Stephanie, said the abuse has had an ‘enormous’ impact on her. ‘It‘s just a dreadful thing and it just infuriates me. This school has not changed anything.’ She wants to see Catholic institutions ‘destroyed’.

Kurtis recommended that schools have processes so that young children who aren’t able to defend themselves are kept separate and never left alone in situations like the one in which he found himself.

‘I’m not proud of the fact that I lived the way I did. I’m not proud of the fact that I became a drug addict at like 12, 13 years of age. As I said, I’m not stupid, and one thing I want to get clear, I do not blame every crap thing that’s happened in my life on this. I don’t. I’m human.

‘I’m capable of making good choices or bad choices, so do not think I’m going to sit here and go, "Oh, my life’s turned out tragic because of this".

'The one thing that I have realised in these past two, three months before I could come and speak to you lot is that I wasn’t given a fair chance not to be a drug addict.’

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