‘There was certainly [the] culture at school … amongst the Brothers that looking back at their behaviour is just very hard to explain.’
Perry’s parents sent him to a Catholic boarding school in regional Victoria in the early 1970s. His parents were devout Catholics and worked hard to be able to afford to send him to the private school. They were ‘trying to do the best’ for him.
‘We’d go to church … three or four times a week and you’re listening to what’s being said and in a blink of an eye, it’s blatantly obvious that … what we’re told and … what [they do] are completely different … our whole belief system is just completely destroyed … I don’t know where that leaves someone who’s 13 years old or 15 years old or 45 years old.’
The environment of the school was one of fear and intimidation. One Brother in particular would brutally punish Perry for any slight, real or imagined, by beating him with a wooden stick until welts appeared on his skin and would hit him ‘so hard that [my] head slams into the urinal as [I was] propelled across the floor’. This type of abuse happened to other boys as well.
‘The abuse was on many levels, not just the sexual abuse, the physical abuse, the emotional abuse but when you’re there, that’s normal … We knew priests there that you didn’t go near … because he’ll want to grab you or something.’
Perry was sexually abused when he became ill one day and had to spend time in the infirmary. The Father who ran the sick bay gave him two tablets. Sometime later, Perry awoke to find the man performing oral sex on him.
‘To be drugged, essentially in a hospital environment … and waking up having someone sucking on your dick – your whole belief system just [disappears] in an instant.’
He didn’t say anything about the abuse until he went home at the end of term and told his mother.
‘She said to me, “You must have been mistaken”, and that was the end of that. I didn’t discuss it with anybody else at school. I didn’t ask anybody [if] the same thing happened. Nothing. Life just carried on.’
Perry didn’t realise the extent of the sexual abuse against the boys until recently.
‘I was driving down the Hume Highway … and the news on the ABC … I hear this news story about [my school] … with multiple victims alleging sexual abuse and I stop the car on the side of the road and just cried. And then realised that … what happened wasn’t just a dream, it was real and it was happening to other people.’
Perry disclosed his abuse to friends that night who were ‘shocked but very supportive’ and have remained so. He then told his wife and sister. He made a report to the sexual crimes police unit and his allegations were added to the ongoing case against the priest.
‘He was subsequently found guilty. I worked out … after that process that things weren’t perhaps equal in the law that for every … boy, if [the abuse occurred] once, it worked out just a couple of weeks in prison on the total amount of sentence.’
He was told about the Catholic redress scheme Towards Healing and saw it as a better option than pursuing the Church and the school through the courts.
‘I didn’t want to go to lawyers or anything like that … I put my trust in [it] after a lot of deliberation actually because trust is one of the things I don’t possess with many people.’
When Perry attended the meeting with the Towards Healing representatives he was faced with their lawyer, a very low monetary redress offer, a document prohibiting him from speaking about his settlement with the Church, and no apology.
‘Whether you get raped once, ten times or whatever happens to you, for someone to come along and say, “Well, that’s worth $2.50, or that’s worth $100,000 or that’s worth one million dollars”. Who’s going to come and say to someone, “And that’s worth that much”?
Perry has been open about his abuse and has supported other friends in their claims against the school and the Church and will continue to do so. In speaking out he has also allowed other family members to disclose their own childhood sexual abuse.
‘In our immediate family, through that single process, surfaced a lot of issues with other people.’
Perry, who has had trouble with intimate relationships, credits his wife for supporting him. ‘I just happened to meet and marry the person who was strong enough to cope with all the things that have happened. A lot of people aren’t that lucky …
‘There was one particular young boy at primary school who lived in the presbytery who subsequently committed suicide … I knew there was something wrong … and subsequently some of the kids at school who committed suicide … you can’t go back and say, “What happened? Or why did you do that?” … but you know that [sexual abuse], it’s a huge possibility.’