At 10 years of age, Shaun found it impossible to tell anyone what Brother Danella was doing to him. ‘I was scared. I didn’t know where to turn to, with me mum or dad or – just had nowhere to turn to.’
Danella was a Christian Brother who worked at the Catholic orphanage in Melbourne where Shaun lived in the early 1970s. On the weekends Shaun would often find himself alone in the dormitory with Danella.
‘At times he would make me lie down on the bed. Sometimes he’ll pull my pants down, sometimes he’ll ask me to pull them down then he’ll go and fondle with me genitals. And he always threatened me with this really thick strap. He said, “If you say something you’ll keep getting the strap”. And he kept on saying, “Who’s my favourite boy?”.’
The abuse continued on and off for about a year. Sometimes Brother Danella would get Shaun to help him prepare for mass and then sexually abuse him in the church afterwards. Shaun also has a vague memory of waking in his dormitory ‘with me pants off and all that. As I woke up I seen someone walk in, in some door.’
Shaun ran away from the orphanage several times. Usually the police picked him up and took him back, but one time he remembers being taking him to a juvenile justice facility instead. ‘Which was good. I was happy because I was safe.’
Shaun told the Commissioner that the Christian Brothers at the home were very harsh with the boys, who were often strapped on the hands, knuckles and buttocks. He felt scared most of the time but there was no one he could talk to about the abuse he was experiencing.
When he was about 14, Shaun left the orphanage and lived on the streets of Melbourne. Eventually his parents found him and brought him home. But home wasn’t a place where he felt safe.
‘Me father, he was a real heavy drinker. He smacked me around. Just kept running away from home and going back to St Kilda on the streets.’
Shaun moved through a series of jobs, and has struggled with relationships, telling the Commissioner, ‘I am married – the wife and I, we’ve split up so many times because I’m not interested in having sexual intercourse or anything like that … She left about two months ago – no contact. And now I’m living on me own’.
He told the Commissioner that he’s attempted suicide ‘heaps of times’ and often experiences intrusive memories, flashbacks and depression. He drinks heavily to try to cope.
‘I still have me ups and downs, you know, just thinking about him, and sometimes nightmares. Wake up one o’clock in the mornings or two or three or something, just nightmares they just wake me up all the time, just get out of bed, you know, and in the lounge room just cry me head off.’
At these times, Shaun relies on his friend and neighbour, Joe.
‘Most of the times I wake up one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning from a bad dream and Joe hears me and comes chatting to me and all that. Yeah, that’s good support.’
Despite the pain and fear that he still suffers, Shaun came forward in 2012 and reported Brother Danella to police. He told the Commissioner, ‘I’m not interested in compensation or anything, I just want justice to be done … I just wish I’d stop having nightmares about this bloke and thinking about him all the time’.