Stewart grew up in Victoria, and in the late 1960s attended a high school run by the Christian Brothers. In a written statement Stewart told the Royal Commission, ‘I was 13, going on 14, at school swimming, when I was raped by Brother Francis. The two assaults happened a fortnight apart’.
‘I have for years tried to forget, erase, and bury the memories of these days without success. I have been an angry man. I have abused alcohol and I have considered and almost actioned suicide to rid myself of the horrors installed in my mind from this lowest form of human predator.’
Stewart thinks one of the only reasons he is still alive is that he saw the effect that a relative’s suicide had on his family. ‘My life wasn’t worth much, but it was for my family. So I just kept going. Kept working. Kept drinking.’
Stewart told the Commissioner that he was asthmatic and this enabled Francis to separate him from the other boys. When Stewart suffered asthma attacks, Francis took him into the changing room, where he raped him.
The sexual abuse Stewart suffered included digital and anal penetration, and happened when he was having difficulty breathing, to such an extent during the second assault that he passed out. During the first assault Francis tore out Stewart’s pubic hair using his teeth. When Stewart asked him to stop, Francis told him it was his fault and that God was punishing him. Stewart believed him and stopped protesting. He also tried to think about what he might have done to offend God.
After the first assault, Stewart was terrified and so distressed that he pulled out his remaining pubic hair, thinking this might act as some sort of protection because Francis had been so preoccupied with it during the assault. After the second assault Stewart considered cutting off his own penis as penance, to avoid further punishment from God.
Stewart felt he couldn’t tell anyone about the assaults. His family was staunchly Catholic so it would have been very difficult to tell his parents. ‘It was hard. Because you really, you’ve got to break the whole fabric of your family to do that, and the Christian Brothers were held in high esteem.’ At school, fear ‘kept me under control. Brother Francis made sure there was plenty of fear … I had two years at that school with him. Playing a cat-and-mouse game where he asserted his power. Just by appearing. Very intimidating. Best day of my life when I left that school’.
Stewart was approached by Francis at a public toilet block three years after the first two assaults, but this time he managed to slam the cubicle door on the Brother’s head and kicked him in the knee, before running home, terrified.
Stewart’s schoolwork had been excellent, but it deteriorated after the abuse. ‘I was quite academic. In three years’ time, my academic work … had died that much. I just scraped into university … and my life spiralled out of control … for years after that. Too much drinking. That doesn’t help. It helps at the time but it doesn’t make it go away. It just gets you that little bit more sleep … before you get nightmares.’
Since first contacting the Royal Commission, Stewart has been undergoing counselling and has established a good relationship with his counsellor. When he first spoke about the abuse, ‘it was horrendous. It probably took a good two months to be able to share the whole story. But I’m glad I did, I tell you. Because I’ve been so much better since … These people have done for me and my family … They saved my life’. He now has less need for alcohol and ‘less inclination and thoughts of suicide’.
Stewart told the Commissioner that ‘the physical act of being raped is very distressing, but pales into insignificance to the years of mental anguish I have suffered … since those assaults. I have attempted to bury this deep inside so no one would ever know’. Although the counselling is helping, Stewart knows it’s going to be a ‘long road. Well it’s been 47 years in the making to get this bad, so I don’t expect this to be fixed in two weeks’.
It took Stewart a long time to come forward to the Royal Commission. ‘It took me six months to write the letter. It’s very hard. It would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done to shoot a story after all the years of the negatives and shame.’
In his written statement, Stewart told the Royal Commission, ‘This is why I am writing my story to you, one which I have not told to anyone until this day, not for retribution against this man but in the hope that in sharing my story I can free myself of the lifelong mental anguish I have endured from the selfish actions of this predator’.