‘Mine is a story that has been and will be repeated many times over, a story of a life that had a great stack of hope, ambition, and willingness to work. That life has been destroyed by mental illness, which I now have no doubt was brought on by me being raped at [Marist Brothers] college in Victoria, in the mid-1970s.’
Tom was raped on several occasions by his boarding master, and the college priest.
‘They were a tag team. In there together … I cannot fathom what makes adults do these disgusting things to children.’
Tom recalled ‘being in extreme pain as I was being anally raped. I had never experienced pain of that sort before. [The Brother] was holding his hand against my mouth gagging me as I started screaming’.
One of the other Brothers came to the boarding master’s door while Tom was being raped and bashed by the two men one night. ‘Brother Colin took me to the infirmary and cleaned me up. He … stayed with me for the night. At the infirmary I was cared for by a female nurse … I had to stay in the infirmary for a week.’
Although Brother Colin rescued Tom that night, he didn’t ask any questions and nothing was said about the abuse. Tom is certain that the Brothers all knew about the abuse, and simply covered it up. ‘It was just an accepted part of the school … they had to have known.’
Tom described the experience of being sent to the Marist Brothers boarding school as horrendous, ‘Especially when you come from a loving home and you’re in that cocoon and all of a sudden, you’re into this … Probably similar to being thrown into jail, I’d say, at 13’.
Tom recalls sitting on his bed begging his mother not to make him return to the college, but he couldn’t tell her why. She was a devout Catholic, and he knew that telling her would distress her too much. In the end, he began to misbehave and was asked not to return to the school. He completed his education at a state high school.
Tom repressed the memories of sexual abuse until about two years ago, after his mother died. Before the memories came back he’d recalled only bits and pieces, but had been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He started drinking in his teens and ‘in the early days, I just drank and drank and drank and drank …
‘It just got worse and worse as I got older. The demons … I think the thoughts were becoming more realistic and more real … my body was breaking down because my brain couldn’t handle all the pain, so I was getting physical symptoms.’
No one took his ailments seriously until he attempted to take his own life in the 1990s.
Tom had never spoken about the abuse until his memories resurfaced, and he has found that ‘most people you talk to about it, they change the subject. It’s too horrific. They don’t want to deal with it’. Two of his siblings said to him, ‘“Why do you want to rehash all that again? You realise what that’s going to do to you?” Both of them said that’.
When he told his father about the physical and sexual abuse, ‘the poor bugger just cried. Dad never cried much. “Why didn’t you tell us?” “It was bashed into me not to tell ya.” And he said, “Well, I woulda dragged you out of there. First thing I woulda done is get you home”’.
Tom has reported the abusers to police and is waiting to hear if they will be charged. He has also engaged a solicitor to seek compensation, but it has been over two years since that process began.
He wants people to know that ‘this whole litigation thing is protracted and it’s daunting and it’s bad … I thought it’d be done and dusted by now’. He wants people to be aware ‘how hard the Church is making it’, but he’s relieved that ‘[the Royal Commission’s] really got some positive results’.
With the progress that has been made in the last few years, Tom feels that, ‘we’re breaking the cycle, and now we’re breaking the cycle I don’t think you’ll find it’s going to be as big a problem, so these people are going to be easier to weed out, hopefully’.
Tom came to his private session at the Royal Commission because, ‘These stories have to be told. I mean we can’t sit silent. I love kids and I just don’t want what happened to me to happen to future generations. It destroys your life. It just does. It pervades you. It invades you and pervades you and eventually takes over’.
Tom told the Commissioner, ‘I think my days from now on are going to be better … I can’t go back to where I was years ago. That won’t happen again. There’s too many forces in place to make sure you don’t go back …’