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Seth's story

‘I thought I was going there to learn how to read and write. That was my main purpose. But everything happened but that.’

For most of his education, Seth attended a school for kids with disabilities in the Hunter region of New South Wales. He started there in the early 1970s, when he was in early primary school.

The school was run by an Order of Catholic Brothers, and Seth boarded there during the week. During his time he was sexually abused by three staff members: Brother Joseph, a teacher; his housemaster, Brother Wesley Coyne; and Peter Tennant, the scoutmaster and sports teacher, who also lived at the school.

Brother Joseph was the first to abuse Seth, when he was seven years old. Coyne and Tennant started abusing him a bit later, with Tennant being the worst.

Tennant ‘used to do scouts, and every afternoon when scouts was over, he’d come up and sit near you, your bed’. When Seth was 12, one of the older boys blew the whistle on Tennant.

‘It stopped because a fellow student of mine come and asked me, is this man playing around with us. And we denied it, a couple of us denied it. And then we come about, and we had a meeting with another Brother, and he stopped it.

‘It was embarrassing, because he stopped it, but he didn’t kick him [Tennant] out. He was still there ... [and] very dirty on me after I dobbed him in.’

Seth expected that the Brother they told about Tennant would get rid of him. ‘I thought that after we talked to him, that Tennant wouldn’t be there the next day ... It was a shock.’

He recognises that this Brother did not do enough to protect the boys. ‘Back then, I don’t know if they knew what to do.’

Brother Joseph had already left the school by that stage. The boys didn’t tell the Brother about what Coyne had done, and so he ‘kept going’ with the abuse.

Recently, Seth made a police report about the abuse. Brother Joseph is deceased, but before he died ‘quite a lot of boys came out with him’.

Although Tennant’s abuse ‘was 10 times worse’ than that by the Brothers, the police only seemed interested in the abuse by Coyne. Seth is concerned that Tennant could still have access to children through scouts, and would like this to be investigated further.

Despite Seth going to the school to learn to read and write, he is still functionally illiterate. When applying for a driver’s licence he discovered problems with his eyesight. While greatly impacting his ability to read, it had never been picked up by the school.

Although he has done volunteer work in community organisations, he has found it difficult to maintain paid employment because of his low literacy.

Seth lodged a legal claim against the Order, and received a significant amount of compensation for the abuse he experienced at the school. He lost a large amount of this in legal fees, and used the rest to buy a campervan.

The person he bought the van from was not honest, and the van cannot be used. He noted that he often gets ‘ripped off’ because he cannot read paperwork for himself.

Seth lives with post-traumatic stress disorder, and worries about what other people will think if they know he was abused. ‘What I find is that a lot of people that know you’ve been touched, think you’re going to touch someone also, so you’re a big threat out there.’

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