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Ruby Joyce's story

Ruby came to the Royal Commission to speak on behalf of her disabled son, Hugh. She has been a great advocate for him all his life. However, the decision to send Hugh to a special residential school has caused Ruby many years of guilt. ‘So many memories I’ve had to live with. I’ve served a 30-odd year sentence.’

Ruby and her husband cared for Hugh at home until he was 10 years old. Hugh has intellectual disabilities and is non-verbal. By the time Hugh was 10 he was too heavy for Ruby and they moved him to a boarding school run by a Catholic order of Brothers. He came home every weekend. Ruby didn’t want to send him but was advised it was in his best interests. It was the early 1980s.

After he had been at the boarding school a while, Ruby noticed Hugh displaying some sexualised behaviours. At night-time, when Ruby tucked him into bed, ‘his eyes would open with such fear’.

Hugh also developed bowel problems when he was still only about 10 years old. Ruby took him to the doctor. After the examination, the doctor said to Ruby, ‘The mind boggles’. Ruby didn’t clarify with the doctor what was meant by this odd comment. But she started to suspect sexual abuse. ‘And I thought about this and all these sick thoughts I had in my head. I didn’t say to anyone because I thought “They’re Brothers. People will think you are a sick woman”.’

During the 10 years Hugh resided at the boarding school, many ‘disturbing’ things happened. On one occasion, an injury on the back of Hugh’s head was explained away by staff, saying he had hurt himself on a piece of furniture. Ruby thought that was strange. She noticed that even the mention of the boarding school would cause Hugh to look alarmed.

Despite feeling things weren’t right, Ruby kept her child there because she trusted the Brothers to keep her son safe. She helped out with school activities when she could. However, parents were not encouraged to go inside the school itself. Generally, they were expected to just pick up and drop off their children at the front cottage. There was also very little contact amongst the parents.

When Hugh was a young man, the boarding school closed down. Ruby tried lobbying to keep it open. She did think the closure was strange as it was sudden and not a matter of funding.

‘They knew something was up’, she told the Commissioner. ‘Rome knew.’

Ruby and her husband moved Hugh to alternative accommodation where he still happily resides.

At some time after the closure, complaints were made against some of the Brothers by a parent of another child who had boarded at the school. Ruby understands that a report was made to the police but no charges were laid as there was not enough evidence.

Years later, around 2004, Ruby heard a news report, in which claims of sexual abuse were made against six Brothers who were at the boarding school when Hugh was there.

Ruby is convinced her son was sexually abused at the boarding school. She knows she has no proof and consequently hasn’t been to the police. These days she describes the Brothers involved as ‘animals’. She told the Commissioner, ‘You lose everything. I’ve got no faith. I knew something wasn’t right. Why didn’t I do something?’ Ruby, now elderly, is angry and wants the Brothers punished ‘before I go’.

For many years Ruby has maintained a vigilant awareness of the Brothers involved, including contacting Broken Rites. The impact on her life has been huge. It has put a strain on her marriage. ‘I’m the one who’s hurting. [Hugh], now, is a happy little fella.’

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