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Paulie's story

‘I’m going to tell you stuff I haven’t told anyone else in my life.’

Paulie came from a large Catholic family in Sydney in the 1960s. He was abused by a Christian Brother at school, but Paulie feels his story begins years before that. When he was out fishing one morning he was befriended by a stranger who started chatting with him. ‘Men were just like your uncle or your dad so you trusted them’, Paulie told the Commissioner.

The man asked to see Paulie’s penis and began fondling him. Paulie was able to escape by saying he could see a nun in the distance. He ran home and told his parents what had happened. His father called the police. ‘I looked through mug shots for the next month at school and at home.’ A little later Paulie recognised the stranger’s car in a street nearby. He gave the police the registration number and the man was arrested.

‘I have read stuff where kids who are abused sometimes go on to abuse.’ Paul revealed an incident shortly after his own experience when he pulled down the pants of a three-year-old neighbour. The boy ran home crying. ‘I think what I was doing was mimicking what the guy did. There was no sexual intent … It’s preyed on my mind ever since that I did that.

‘I think that’s added to my disgust about myself … I did it and I can’t take it away.’

Paulie believes he was primed for sexual abuse at school by the early incident. He recalls being noticed in the playground by Brother Martin, who remarked a few times, ‘You’re a bit of a loner, aren’t you, Paulie?’ When he was 13 he was called to Martin’s office after a schoolyard prank.

‘Straight away he sat me in his lap and instead of asking me about [the prank] he said, “Do you have a girlfriend?”’ Martin stroked Paulie’s hair and breathed and whispered in his ear. ‘Then his hands started to drop down, like that, into my crotch. I remember thinking, “What’s going on there?” Then it would go back up, then it would drop down.’

Paulie jumped to his feet and demanded to be let out of the locked office. ‘It turned into a screaming match. I was bawling my eyes out … He finally unlocked the door and let me out.’

Paulie did not discuss the abuse with his school friends. He went straight home to his parents. ‘I waited a couple of days before I said anything … I went in and I told Dad what had happened and he said, “Are you sure you didn’t encourage him?” I walked out of the room and my relationship with my dad, it just got worse from that stage.’

Paulie felt he had no one to confide in, and he carried the secret for years. ‘There was no one to go and talk to … I was basically just left and I became a recluse as a teenager. I spent a lot of my time in my bedroom when I was supposed to be doing my homework. I wouldn’t be doing my homework.’

Almost immediately, Paulie’s grades dropped. He remembers announcing to his peers in class that a high percentage of priests and Brothers were homosexual, just to get a reaction. ‘I think I’d lost confidence in everything. Institutions, relationships, men, everyone.

‘What Dad said to me made me feel like maybe there was something wrong with me. “I’m different from other kids. Why is this happening to me? Maybe I am encouraging it and I don’t know”. And the idea of me being a sexual object to older men: I thought, “What is this about?”’

Paulie has struggled with his self-esteem all his life. He drank too much and became a heavy marijuana user. He became addicted to heroin for several years before going cold turkey.

Though he’s now drug free, Paulie says he still has problems with relationships, especially intimate ones. ‘I didn’t like my penis there for a long time ‘cause it was what got me into trouble.

‘I’ve started relationships with women that many times, but I think I’m a bit mixed up sexually. I feel like sometimes I’m doing the wrong thing, like I’m hurting them or something.’ At times he feels as if intercourse is an act of aggression and this has impacted his sex life.

He’s not had children of his own. ‘I’ve always thought I couldn’t look after myself, let alone a child. My 20s and 30s I just bumbled around. I had no ambitions, no anything.’

Despite his disrupted life Paulie has built a career in community service, helping the disabled and disadvantaged for the last 20 years. He’s been seeing a psychologist in recent months. He downplays his own experience of abuse as ‘minor’, but wants his story told to help the Royal Commission build its picture of offenders and affected institutions.

‘It’s not as if I’m after vengeance or anything. Hopefully this is part of a cathartic experience for me that I can leave some of it behind now that someone like yourselves has actually listened at this level.’

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