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Malcolm James's story

Malcolm told the Commissioner he didn’t really want to spend time talking about the details of the sexual abuse he experienced as a child. He was more concerned with its impacts: ‘the effects on my life personally and mainly on my family’s life’.

He’d been abused by several Christian Brothers at the primary school he attended in the late 50s and early 60s, in a regional Victorian town.

The school ‘was like a cesspool of frustration and misinformation and deviancy’, he said. ‘That was my primary school training. The Christian Brothers have this thing, you know: you give us your child and we’ll give you a good Christian lad. But that was far from the truth, in my experience of it.'

‘To me the whole thing, looking back on it, was just a kind of a freak show. It was kind of a facade. It was about good manners, clean shoes but underneath it was all kind of – rotten.’

Malcolm was also sexually assaulted by a local priest, Father Winney, who visited Malcolm’s home for family get-togethers and celebrations. Malcolm’s brother was also assaulted by Winney. Years later, as an adult, Malcom disclosed the abuse to his parents. ‘When I told my parents about it, Mum immediately said, “I’m not surprised”. Dad was in shock. Dad was really upset about it, that I hadn’t told him.'

‘They were very supportive. They were beautiful parents, poor as church mice but they did the right thing by us.’

Malcolm’s schooling suffered badly as a result of the abuse. And it affected his emotional growth.

‘Everything was creepy. Like, after this time, I just couldn’t wait to get out of the place. I didn’t do homework … I was seen as a kind of a basket case’, he said.

‘With the men who abused me, there’s a sense of – you become special – there’s a sense of, that you’re – I don’t even know the right term or word for it but it’s this sense of, it’s a feminising process … and that kind of stunted my maturity. I was always seen as a bit of a clown or someone who really wasn’t all that intelligent.’

As an adult he overcame his lack of education. He went on to study, to gain multiple qualifications and find satisfying work. But he was not able to deal with the deeper impacts of the abuse as successfully. Instead, these played out in his relationships with his wife and children, with ongoing negative consequences. There were sexual issues and domestic violence, he said.

‘On the one hand you can be smart and switched on, and on the other hand you can be violent and deviant … I don’t know if there’s an answer; you just deal with it.’

He and his wife were ‘constantly fighting, it was a bit of a battle zone. So my kids saw all that, they witnessed all that, so there’s a second round of victims if you like – that ripple effect’.

As a parent, he was a too-strict disciplinarian – he learned that from the Christian Brothers, he said.

‘I wasn’t a good father’, he told the Commissioner.

‘There’s a disjoint between the kind of maturity I should have had, and should have been able to give my children … I really didn’t know what to do as a father … I was not really able to kind of provide guidance for them in a true fatherly sense.'

‘I loved my children but as I said, that immaturity was dragged around behind me from a very early age obviously … Retrospectively you can look back and see gee, you had all these diplomas but you were dumber than dumb really.'

‘I have no excuse for my behaviour with my wife and children, ‘cause there is no excuse – I should have known better. There’s reasons why I was unable to think those things through at the time, and that is cause for regret. Because if you could wind back the clock …’

Malcolm has had counselling over the years, and found it helpful. In the late 1990s he reported Winney to police. It turned out there were other offences against other children, and multiple charges were heard in a single trial. Winney was convicted but given a suspended sentence.

In the mid-2000s Malcolm approached the Catholic Church for compensation. He received payment from the Christian Brothers and from the Church, which he shared with his then ex-wife. He was elated at first. ‘But once that euphoria’s over, you’re still at square one, because nothing’s psychologically changed. Physically perhaps but not psychologically.’

There was no follow-up contact or support.

‘Once the cheque is signed and given to you … [It’s implied:] “This is our legal obligation and we’ve fulfilled it so that’s the end of that”.’

Malcom would like to see healing strategies that focus on the lives of everyone in the family. ‘If I can have one thing, it’s some kind of reconciliation process for the families, so that it’s not just about the primary victim, whoever that is.’

In his own case, he is estranged from his now-adult children, a situation he finds very sad and difficult.

‘In a sense it’s a bit of a mess. Because if you lose someone through death or even in a relationship, if that relationship goes bad – okay, you deal with it, you move on. If someone close to you dies, you grieve, hopefully you move on. If you’re estranged from your family there is no such kind of relief, because every day is kind of like oh, yeah, okay, that’s right. So it’s a constant thing and it’s pretty debilitating. I try not to let it get me down but you can imagine – if you’ve got kids and you’ve got no contact, well.'

‘It’s one thing to say you’re sorry but demonstrating it when there’s that estrangement is almost impossible.’

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