Ronan’s early life with his family was hard. There was domestic violence in the home and his parents drank a lot. ‘I remember one instance of waking up to see my mother having sex with one of my uncles. They just told me to go back to sleep.’
His life got even harder in the early 1970s, when he and his siblings were removed from their parents. The boys’ home he was sent to at 11 years of age ‘was a horrible place, and I hated being there’.
The nuns who ran it beat Ronan on his head, arms and back with a leather strap with metal inside it. Several of the nuns also ‘sexually abused me. They would tell me to do sexual acts to them. I remember being confused as they were meant to have decent Godly behaviour, but then they would assault me’.
He thought of Sister Luke as ‘the mother I never had’, and went to her room one night when he was in pain. She told him to get into her bed, undress, and put his hand on her vagina. This happened on many occasions. Another nun, Sister Anne, would pull the boys out of the shower by their penises.
Ronan became an altar boy, which lead to further abuse. ‘I remember being dragged into the change room on several occasions by a priest. He would pull out his penis and would tell me to do things to it. I couldn't do anything to stop him.’ One time, the priest bent Ronan over the sink in the sacristy and raped him. He also caught this priest abusing another boy, and was threatened not to tell anyone.
When he was around 13, Rowan was sent by the nuns to stay in a nearby town during the holidays. He thinks the house he went to belonged to a man who had an administration role in the Church. Several other men lived in this place too.
The first couple of visits there were fine, but the next time all of the men raped him. ‘These guys would come in and sexually assault me. I was never able to say no or protect myself. In this house there were multiple men who would take turns in abusing me when I was there.’
He told Sister Luke what happened. ‘She yelled at me for being a liar, and I was then given a beating.’
The matter ‘should have been investigated. I should have been treated with respect and listened to. I should not have been beaten for telling the truth as a little child’.
He was sent back there numerous times, and raped ‘time and time again’.
The older boys at the home physically abused Ronan, including punching him in the face as he slept. To escape the ongoing abuse at the home, he would try to do lots of outside activities, but he’d be treated as an outcast when other kids found out where he was from.
‘When I turned 16, I was chucked out the door, offered no counselling or support, was left to fend for myself with very little money, maybe $20.’ He stayed with some local people, and completed his schooling.
For a while he used alcohol to cope, but now limits his drinking. He smoked marijuana when he was younger to block the bad memories. He has lived with nightmares and flashbacks, and has difficulty trusting people.
‘I still have a lot of trouble with people who are gay. This makes me feel like I want to grab them and get angry. It is very hard for me to be around them.’ Ronan cannot discuss his experiences with his siblings, even though he knows some were also abused.
One day, ‘I sort of pulled myself up, and I went, what are you doing? You can live better than this. And I did’. He feels lucky that he managed to get a good job, buy a house and boat, and build a happy family with his wife and children.
His wife of 30 years passed away not ever knowing about the abuse, and he has never told his children.
‘I vowed very early in life that my kids would never experience what happened to me, and I worked hard every day to give them a good life. I have a great relationship with all my kids, but they do not know anything about my life as a child.’
Ronan has recently told his new partner – even though he was a bit wary of disclosing to her – because he wants to be able to move forward. He has also spoken with a worker from a service supporting survivors of child sexual abuse.
Ronan has not reported the abuse to police, but intends to seek legal advice about his options. He is angry that welfare staff never checked on him during his time in care, especially as he was a state ward. ‘Somebody should have ensured that we were safe, not only from the clergy who sexually and physically abused us, but also from the respite carers and the abuse they perpetrated on us.’