Russell started boarding at a South Australian Salesian Brothers school in the 1970s, when he was in his early teens. Brother Cyril was in charge of the dormitory where all the boarders slept, regardless of their age. In Russell’s first year at the college, Brother Cyril began sexually abusing him.
‘I remember Brother Cyril sitting on my bed and putting his hands on my genitals. I remember him sexually assaulting me. I remember him telling me to be quiet and I felt absolutely terrified. I remember he took my hand and made me touch his penis. It was horrific.
‘When he was finished with me he just told me to sshhh, and walked off. The following night, Brother Cyril did it to me again ... I don't know if any of the other boys saw it. No-one said anything about it.’
Russell never spoke with the other boys about what Cyril had done, and none ever disclosed abuse to him. Still, ‘I'm sure he sexually assaulted many, many boys, as well as myself’.
The Brother would also come into the showers and watch the boys as they washed. ‘I felt so afraid of him. I had to stand there naked in the showers with him watching me, I felt completely helpless. It is hard to find the words to describe how humiliating, degrading and terrifying it all was.’
Russell isn’t sure how long this abuse went on for, or even how long he was at the school, but thinks he may have been there a couple of years. He has tried to find out more information, but ‘all the records have just disappeared from the archives’.
On weekends Russell would return home to his family. They were strict Catholics and he did not feel he could tell them about what Brother Cyril was doing. ‘It just didn't feel possible for me to tell my family about what had happened to me at the time. I was only 13 years old when it happened to me and I didn't think my parents would believe me. I was worried about the devastating impact that this would have on them.’
Often he would run away from home on Sundays, in an attempt to avoid having to go back to the school. ‘I lost interest in my schooling and this had a detrimental impact on my education. My parents couldn't understand the change in my behaviour.’
In recent years Russell disclosed the abuse to Broken Rites, after hearing about them on the radio. ‘If I hadn’t spoken to them, I still wouldn’t have done anything about it.’ As yet he has not made a formal report to police or the Church, but he has now sought advice about his legal options. ‘I am interested in working towards some justice, and having the perpetrator charged and held responsible for what he has done to me ... My main motivation to be part of this Royal Commission process is to help to stop the bastards, and to have the Catholic Church held accountable for the crimes of Brother Cyril’s sexual offending against me and all of his other victims.’
Russell told the Commissioner he has experienced depression and anxiety, flashbacks, substance abuse and has withdrawn from friends and family. ‘I have coped by staying on my own. I live a reclusive lifestyle with my two dogs who mean the world to me. I do work as much as I can, but when I feel myself going in to a depression, I spend long periods of time at home on my own. This is how I cope.’
Relationships are difficult, and his marriages have broken down. ‘To this day, I can’t even hug my mum or dad, you know?’ It is even hard for him to return to his home town – last time he visited ‘everything just started closing in’.
He has recently disclosed to his doctor, good friend, and sister, and is now engaged with counselling. ‘I thought I was alright, but I’m not. I’ll be good for two or three months, four months, six months. And then ... I’ll hear something on the radio or the news, and that’s it, it all starts flooding through my head again.’
Russell has asked his sister not to tell their parents about it. ‘Dad’s in his 80s and Mum’s old as well, and I can’t see a point in them knowing what’s happened to me.’