Valentin was a young boy living in Malta when his mother passed away in the early 1950s. His father was incapable of caring for his children alone, but as a member of the merchant navy was able to accompany them on the ship to Australia after they were sent as part of the child migrant scheme.
After disembarking in Western Australia when he was five years old, Valentin and his sister went to live in a Catholic orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. Two years later, Valentin was removed from the home and placed in a home run by the Christian Brothers while his sister stayed. Upon arriving at his new home, Valentin discovered a culture of violence that still haunts him to this day.
‘I received many injuries from bigger boys, many beltings with straps and beatings from the Brothers for very minor events. I remember one time we were … lining up … and I was out of line, and Brother Daniels grabbed me below my shirt and gave me three or four smacks … He smacked my hands with the strap and then across my legs. I cried that much I started to get the hiccups. My hands and legs were red and sore. I received many beltings like this from Brothers.’
In addition to physical abuse, Valentin was sexually abused by one of the Brothers in his dormitory.
‘One night Brother Flanagan came to my bed. I was crying because I had wet my bed. He knelt down beside my bed and started to rub my hair and my stomach. Then his hands went down my pyjamas and he played with my penis.’
At the time, Valentin’s bed was in the middle of a large dormitory which had many boys sleeping in there. The day after Brother Flanagan abused him for the first time, he was instructed to change beds and move into a smaller room sharing with only one other boy.
‘I know there was many, many boys were getting mucked around with … All the lucky boys used to get their own room, all the favourites and all that.’
‘So about twice a week he would come to my room and touch me. Every now and then he would put my hand on his penis and he told me to play with it while he was lying over me … He would give me lots of lollies. He told me not to say anything to anyone, this was our secret.’
Brother Flanagan’s abuse continued for approximately two years. By the late 1950s Valentin’s father had come to live in Western Australia. Unable to bring himself to disclose Brother Flanagan’s nightly visits, Valentin complained to his father about the physical abuse. Eventually his father removed Valentin from the Christian Brothers’ home and brought him home to live with him.
Valentin recalls he was not the brightest of students and had difficulty learning. Even so, at the home he was given little education and by the time he left could barely read or write.
‘I went to a school down the road and I was so far behind in my schooling they put me in the slow learners section … I thought there was something wrong with me … I hated school because I didn’t understand anything because I didn’t know anything.’
After finishing school, Valentin found work as a labourer while attending vocational college to improve his literacy. He lacked self-esteem, had poor communication skills and, confused by Brother Flanagan’s attention, started engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviour.
‘I always thought that was normal. I started to muck around. I started to become a homo, you know … And I was so shy and everybody yelled at me before I’d start crying.’
‘I had poor education skills and emotional problems ... I was always depressed. I would cry most nights. I have been taking medication since I was 18 for my depression and still to this day I find it hard to mix with people and the opposite sex.’
Valentin went to see a doctor at 18 who referred him to a psychiatrist. He was diagnosed with anxiety and depression related to childhood trauma and prescribed medication, which he has continued to take for most of his adult life. It wasn’t until his thirties that he first disclosed the sexual abuse to a counsellor. To date he has been unable to tell his father or older sister. ‘I didn’t want Dad to know. Nah I never told him.’
Valentin never married but did have a relationship with a woman with whom he had a daughter. When she became incapable of caring for their child as well as another she’d had with a different father, Valentin gained custody of the children and raised them himself.
‘The children were in my care. I brought them up on my own. My children would say they loved me but I could not get myself to say I loved them. So the lack of education and the sexual, emotional and physical abuse I suffered while in [the home] still affects me today.’
In the late 1990s, Valentin was offered $2,000 as part of a class action against the Christian Brothers, a figure he found insulting and refused to accept. ‘I said, “My car’s worth more than that”.’ Ten years later he was awarded a compensation payment of $30,000 through Towards Healing and a further ex gratia payment of $45,000 from the Redress WA scheme.
Valentin has spent his adult life feeling guilty over the abuse he suffered, believing in some way that it must have been his fault. He has never reported his abuser to the police and is not interested in doing so. He gains strength from his relationship with his children, ongoing counselling and his dogs.
‘I’m getting better all the time now. Like I’ve even gone off the medication. But I still keep to myself, you know. I’m sort of like a loner.’