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Trevor James's story

Trevor attended a Catholic De La Salle school in Sydney in the mid-1960s. In sixth class he suffered physical and sexual abuse from ‘the most violent man I think I’ve ever met’, lay teacher Donald Baxter. ‘We had a female teacher in fifth class who was quite … well, she didn’t hand out as much punishment as the Brothers did. However, when I went into sixth class things changed dramatically … When I got in there I had no idea what I was in for.’

At home, Trevor’s father ‘was incredibly violent’, and he ‘never felt like I had a holiday. At the end of every January I’d cry myself to sleep going, “You’ve got to go back to that hole”’.

Trevor recalls that Baxter ‘had a thing on a Friday afternoon called the hit parade … For every mistake you made, he would jump off a three-platform box … with a leather strap that had bitumen stitched into the centre of it. It hurt. My bowels would just go to water every Friday afternoon’.

One evening, when Trevor’s hands were ‘so welted from him hitting me with a cane this time, I couldn’t hold my knife and fork, and my father asked me why I wasn’t eating my food properly, I just showed him my hands, and my mother said “That’s good character building for you”’.

Trevor did quite well in school, but ‘what has happened in remembering all this stuff is that one day I had a bolt out of the blue and thought, “That’s right, Dad was worried about your grades so he let you go to this man’s place after school for additional tuition” … where Baxter continued to do what he used to do in the classroom’.

Trevor knows he wasn’t the only boy abused. A friend and former classmate recently ‘described in great detail what Baxter did to him and another boy’ on school excursions.

At school Baxter ‘would take one boy at a time into this corridor where the gym equipment was stored … I remember watching boys come out of that room and the look on their faces and the crying. The shuddering, not crying, because you couldn’t make a noise. He would have smacked you up’.

Trevor remembers Baxter ‘kissing me on the mouth. Getting me to touch his penis … At the time I had no idea what sexual … I had not masturbated until I was about 14, I think. But I knew that what he was doing wasn’t quite normal’.

Trevor told the Commissioner, ‘Why I bring the violence up is that I think the long-term effect that he had on me was that I couldn’t quite marry up this kind of someone’s very tender towards you, and okay, inappropriately sexual, although I didn’t know what was going on in that regard, but then he’d bring you out into the classroom and flog the daylights out of you. And so I’ve found this kind of confusing mindset has stayed with me. I’ve never formed a very good trusting relationship in my life’.

Trevor has been on anti-depressants for 12 to 14 years, and for a long time suffered from the same crippling anxiety disorder his mother had experienced previously. His mother’s response to Trevor’s illness was, ‘Pull yourself together’.

Trevor recalled, ‘For years I thought I was complicit … I only got past that last year, and that was through the help of my psychologist, who I’ve been seeing for eight years. She finally convinced me that you know, being a 10-year-old boy and being molested is not in any way reflective of the fact you were compliant or complicit in any part of it …

‘The funny thing about me though is that I later did become gay … I am gay. I wasn’t at that time but something changed … where Baxter worked out I was, and then started to sideline me … he’d perhaps worked out that I reflected something in him. So he sidelined me.’

Trevor’s later years at school were also difficult. ‘I went on to suffer a lot of bullying at school. They pissed on me. Smashed me on the head … and getting bashed, a lot.’ Trevor told the Commissioner, ‘Even later in those years, I didn’t feel that the Brothers honoured a duty of care of me in any way, shape or form. You know, it was like, you’re out on your own’.

While many of the Brothers were as violent as Baxter, they ‘never touched us [sexually] –well, not to my knowledge’.

Trevor recently discovered that in the mid-1960s, just prior to his encounters with Baxter, the De La Salle Order ‘defrocked one of their own Brothers for the same kind of allegation … and allowed him to stay at the school as a lay teacher. And that blew my mind … this makes me even more angry, because they had to have known what was going on in their own ranks. They had to have’.

De La Salle has denied any abuse occurred at the school, and ‘have decided that they have lost all the school records’ from 1961 to 1984.

Trevor doesn’t understand why nothing was done about the abuse. ‘In those days it was a culture of … like a tolerance, and I don’t understand where they’re coming from when they’re tolerating this because I mean … you know they’re teaching all this stuff in the name of Jesus Christ. You would think you’d have some sort of honest bone in your body that you could at least say, “You know what? This is not in the name of Jesus Christ”.’

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