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Tony James's story

Tony was born in Brisbane in the late 1970s. It was a normal kind of life, Tony said, until his parents separated when he was in Year 8. He was sent to live with his father, who enrolled him in a college run by the Marist Brothers. The principal was Brother Patrick, an aggressive man who liked to beat children with a leather cane.

One day, Tony and some mates were caught looking at pornography. They were marched to Brother Patrick’s office. Tony was made the scapegoat. After this first confrontation with Brother Patrick, his life was turned upside down.

‘If I played up or anything I’d get sent to the office and then he’d pull the pornographic material out and it just kind of grew from there. He molested me, digitally raped me.’

Tony started to rebel. ‘That was the effect it had on me. I didn’t know who to turn to because I couldn’t really tell the teachers or my dad. He threatened that my dad wouldn’t believe me … It just got worse and worse.’

Brother Patrick arranged for Tony to do work in the school grounds with a fellow student during class. It gave him easy access to him whenever he liked.

‘He’d come and get me and take me into the chapel that was off the side of his house and it was just horrific … Now I look back, if I could turn back time, I would have said something to my father, but I was just really ashamed and I didn’t really know how to approach it … I believed what he said, that my father wouldn’t believe me.’

The sexual abuse went on for two years. Out of shame and guilt, Tony kept it to himself. ‘He’d make out that I’d always done something wrong and that was my punishment.’

Tony doesn’t know if anyone else was abused by Brother Patrick but he did notice that every time he came back from the chapel his mate, who worked alongside him in the grounds, had been sent away.

Tony’s schoolwork dropped away completely. He didn’t finish Year 10 and got a job at a nearby shopping centre. Much to his alarm, Brother Patrick would drop in to the shop to see how he was going. Tony hid from him when he could.

He has suffered from a complete lack of confidence all of his adult life, but he is in no doubt as to why. Since the age of 13, he’s felt ‘really, really lost’. Drugs became the only thing that helped. ‘I just used drugs to smother my thoughts really.’

When he looks back, he wonders why alarm bells weren’t ringing at the school. ‘I don’t understand … why the teachers didn’t ask where I was or why I wasn’t in class.’ And he wonders if they knew what their principal was up to.

Tony hasn’t told anyone what happened to him at school, including his partner. When he became a father, his anxiety grew worse. He won’t let his children have sleep-overs or go to Catholic school. He realises he’s ‘too clingy’ but just wants to protect them. His worry over them is constant.

‘I started using heroin just so I’d stop thinking and sleep … Now I’ve got a heroin habit, then I couldn’t afford to support it so I started doing crime … It’s just like a big chain reaction.’

His dad blames himself for Tony’s heroin habit, which makes him feel even worse.

Tony’s currently in prison. He wants to tell his family about the sexual abuse so that they’ll understand why he’s turned out so differently from them, but he’s not sure how to go about it. One thing he’s sure of is that the abuse led directly to the life he has now.

Tony is now keen to start the healing process, both physical and emotional, once he is out of prison. He was apologetic that the Commission had to hear his details about the physical effects of Brother Patrick’s abuse.

‘I know it must be bad hearing this kind of stuff. I just want to say I really appreciate it.’

Tony contacted the Commission because he doesn’t want to think of other children going through what he did.

‘It’s too life changing. It just changes a young person’s outlook on life. It really just disintegrates their life and steamrolls out of control in ways you don’t even know are affecting you.’

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