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Ramon's story

‘I feel like I can contain it as long as I don’t’ talk about the abuse. Once you talk about the abuse, it goes somewhere else for me, it goes somewhere else.’

Ramon did not want to ‘go through it again’. Whenever he has had to describe the abuse he suffered as a child, he has experienced ‘moments of blackouts’, jumping ‘back and forth’, and an inability to ‘recall certain things’. Instead, Ramon wanted to talk about the ‘unacceptable’ failure of the institution. ‘It’s always been my grievance’, he said.

In the 1980s Ramon was sexually abused by Brother Cunningham, the sports teacher at his Marist Brothers High School in Victoria. The Brother, who was ‘very respected’ and ‘really well liked’, abused Ramon over a number of months. Ramon knew of three other boys who were abused by Cunningham at this time.

The abuse came to an abrupt halt when it was witnessed by another student. ‘He was in shock, I was in shock, the teacher was in shock. We all went “What do we do now?” … I remember him walking straight to the principal’s office, and I went home because I was absolutely mortified. I was so embarrassed.’

‘Next morning, everything went under the radar. The teacher had disappeared, the student wasn’t there, and the principal didn’t call me in. Everything was the same.’

That night, after his parents had been called to the school, Ramon’s mother asked him if anything had happened. Ashamed, Ramon said ‘no’.

‘The following three years thereafter were horrible’, Ramon recalled. ‘All the teachers knew what had happened, but I was systematically bullied by the teachers, and treated horribly by the principal.’

Later, Ramon learned that Brother Cunningham had been moved to another Catholic school where he is alleged to have abused other children.

In the 1990s, when Ramon was at university and ‘looking for answers’, he went to a Melbourne police station to report the abuse. The constable took no notes during the disclosure, but made ‘some very crass statements’ implying that the adolescent Ramon probably ‘wanted it’. Finally, Ramon said, ‘You’re making it worse, and you’re not helping, and you’re not interested, so I’ll leave’. Ramon said this was a ‘horrible experience’. ‘It took me about a week and half to recover, and then I thought, that’s the way it is.’

A couple of years later, Ramon went to a different Melbourne police station to try again to report the abuse. Having read up on the law, he felt that he was ‘more equipped’. However, ‘this time it was worse, much worse’.

‘It was game on. I was just interrogated pretty much ... They didn’t believe me. They said, “Oh well maybe it’s something you provoked, you initiated … Are you after money? Is that what you want? … It’s so many years ago. Why now? Let it go” … It was just horrendous, absolutely horrendous.’

Ramon still finds it ‘shocking’ that ‘all the responsibility’ and ‘burden of proof’ rested on him, on the child who was abused. ‘That’s too much’, he said.

Ramon walked away from this second police interview thinking ‘Okay, I’m done … I’ll never get what I want, and that’s okay. That’s okay. I just have to let this go’. Ramon ‘put the anger somewhere else’, and then became ‘really focused’ on his career working in community services.

About five years ago, Ramon wrote a submission to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into institutional child abuse, and then provided a statement to the Operation SANO task force. This time, his involvement with the police was much more positive. The officer he worked with ‘apologised for their behaviour’ and said ‘I’m sorry we failed you’. ‘I was in shock’, Ramon said. ‘I just sat there … She said, “I just can’t believe that happened”.’

Other complainants have since come forward to give evidence against Brother Cunningham, and an investigation is underway. ‘Because of him, two children are dead [from suicide] and one has gone to prison. That is shocking. That is horrific … That is unacceptable … We failed three children, four with me, but at least I found a way to go, “Okay, how can I find strength from this?”’

Because of the nature of Ramon’s work, he has often helped other survivors who have come ‘out of the woodwork’.

‘I’m the rock’, he said, ‘so everyone comes to me. But when I crumble – and I’ve been crumbling lately – everyone goes really weird.’

Speaking concurrently with the police and the Royal Commission has been ‘so overwhelming’ for Ramon because it ‘has actually opened up a can of worms’. He is seeing a counsellor, is on a ‘massive concoction’ of medication for anxiety and depression, and his stress levels are ‘astronomical’.

‘All this triggers lots of stuff. It’s incredible sometimes. You find, you get a phone call and … it’s so overwhelming, you know, that you’re brought back to that space.’

Despite his stress and persistent thoughts that he was somehow ‘guilty’ for the abuse, Ramon found a ‘sense of relief’ after talking about the abuse, along with a conviction that the fault lay with the abuser, not him.

‘We were children’, he said.

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