When Nola first suspected that her son Xavier was being groomed for sexual abuse by one of the Brothers at his Catholic high school she did everything she could to stop it. In the end she succeeded and saved not only Xavier but possibly 40 other kids as well. To get there, however, she had to endure a long and painful struggle.
Xavier arrived at the Sydney school in the 2010s. Nola described her son as ‘a very compliant boy. He’s a very shy boy’. She believes it was these characteristics that attracted the attention of Brother Peters. Brother Peters worked in the school sick bay and sometimes wandered the grounds, chatting to the boys. Early in the year he approached Xavier.
Xavier came home that day and told his mum that Brother Peters had invited him to join ‘the measuring program’. Through this program, Nola said, ‘he would be measured every year from Year 7 through to Year 12 and he’d be able to see how much he had grown’.
The measurements took place later that year. Brother Peters measured and recorded Xavier’s ‘height, his waist, his length of arm and his length of leg and weight’. Nola thought the whole thing was a bit odd but she didn’t start feeling alarmed until the end of the year when Xavier received a hand-made, hand-delivered birthday card from Brother Peters, which included Xavier’s school photo.
The following year Xavier came home one day to tell Nola that Brother Peters had measured him again.
‘Xavier’s height, waist, length of arm and this time his bicep was measured and also felt by the Brother and he also measured around the top of his thigh.’ Brother Peters had then made some comments about Xavier being small for his age.
Nola began to worry and then to worry even more as she learned that the incident had taken place in the sick bay, an isolated building located about 400 metres from the main office. ‘And this Brother would take the children into a room where nobody else could see in. On their own.’
Nola felt anxious and uncertain about whether the Brother’s behaviour was appropriate or not. She spoke to her husband, an old boy of the school, and he told her that she was overreacting and to forget the whole thing. Nola couldn’t, especially after Xavier received another hand-delivered birthday card.
She expressed her concerns to a co-worker who then spoke to a representative from the Catholic diocese. The matter escalated from there. Nola met with the representative and showed her the card. The representative concluded that Brother Peters’ behaviour was potentially dangerous and contacted the school.
Sometime later the school principal contacted Nola and told her that Brother Peters had been stood down while the ombudsman conducted an investigation. A few weeks later the ombudsman interviewed Nola and Xavier.
‘She actually questioned Xavier, did he at any time feel uncomfortable, and Xavier said, “No, not really”. The ombudsman took that as, “Oh, it was okay then”.’
Months passed and Nola heard nothing. Frustrated she rang the ombudsman who was surprised and said words to the effect of, ‘Have the school not informed you yet?’ Nola immediately rang the principal. ‘He said that the investigation has determined that there was no criminal act and that Brother Peters would be reinstated.’
Nola wasn’t satisfied. Fearing for the safety of her children and the other boys at the school she spoke to the diocese representative again. ‘And she advised me to contact the Royal Commission. My husband advised me that if I was to go to the Royal Commission our marriage would end in divorce.’
But Nola persisted. She rang the Royal Commission who referred her to a child abuse prevention group. The group advised her that, ‘yes there was a few red flags. And that really gave me the confidence to really – I didn’t care if my marriage ended in divorce, I didn’t care what happened, I was prepared to take on this institution and just take it all the way, because that was my son’.
She now believes that the threat of Royal Commission intervention gave her the leverage she needed. The principal called to inform her that Brother Peters had been removed from the school and sent to work in an old people’s home. This was good, thought Nola, but not good enough.
She met with the principal and made a number of recommendations: she wanted all the boys involved with the measuring club to be properly interviewed; she wanted steps taken to ensure that kids who spoke out were not victimised; and she wanted a training program put in place to teach the boys how to identify grooming behaviour.
At the time of her session with the Royal Commission, Nola hasn’t received any responses to her requests.
After a dip in his grades Xavier is back to normal again. Nola and her husband went to counselling and are still together. She has her moments of doubt but is beginning to accept that she did the right thing.
‘Had I allowed my own husband to intimidate me on this matter, it would be still going on. I feel a hundred per cent sure on that: Brother Peters would still be there and measuring this and measuring that. Because it had all escalated from one year to the next. What was going to be the next step?’