Willem Sean's story

‘You’re petrified all the time, always looking over your shoulder.’

As a child, Willem disliked being at home with his alcoholic father, and constantly ran away from home. His father was never violent, but his drinking got in the way, and he neglected his children. His mother found it hard to care for Willem, his siblings and his father.

In the early 1950s, when he was five, Willem and his siblings attended a local Catholic school in Queensland. At first, he liked school, but eventually grew to dislike his teachers. By the age of nine, Willem was regularly wagging school. He was often found and picked up by the police.

One police officer ‘had it in’ for him and had a knack for finding him. Willem was charged with being an uncontrollable child, separated from his siblings, and sent to a boys’ home in a different town.

He described the home as a brutal place where the conditions were horrible. The food often wasn’t cooked properly and the bed sheets were dirty. Willem remembers one boy paying another to stab his leg with a pitchfork so he could leave the institution.

Willem was punished by several staff members for the smallest things. ‘I remember [a worker] giving me a flogging and I couldn’t even put my shirt on. I had blood running down me arm and down me back.’

After a period of several months, Willem was moved to a De La Salle boys’ home where he stayed for two years. He didn’t mind the home at the beginning, and said it was a source of warmth and comfort. He had his own room, and the other residents and workers weren’t unkind.

However, that changed when he was 11 and met his dormitory master, Brother Victor. Victor was intimidating and told the boys that he was a policeman from another state.

Willem recalls Victor getting into several of the boys’ beds when the lights went out. ‘He used to come in every night and played with my penis. Then he’d start playing with himself too. Used to happen all the time. You couldn’t really say anything.’ This continued for several months.

Willem was petrified of Victor, and scared that he would report him to the police for something he didn’t do. He was relieved when Victor was replaced by house parents.

Even though the sexual abuse had stopped, Willem was constantly on edge. He never told anyone about Victor’s behaviour because he was too afraid, and he’s certain many other boys felt the same way.

In the early-1960s, when he was about 14, Willem was discharged from the institution and returned to his family. He left school early and got a job, but found it hard to concentrate because his mind was ‘all over the place’. He turned to alcohol to ease the pain.

‘It’s not easy to forget. You see it on TV and straight away, you’re there.’

Willem has never been able to settle down. He has had multiple jobs, and briefly served time in jail. His marriages broke down, and he is has fragmented relationships with his siblings, which hurts him. He has also been violent towards people he perceived as homosexual – something he now regrets.

It took Willem several decades to disclose his abuse. In the late 2000s, after telling his partner, he participated in Queensland’s Redress Scheme and received a modest payment. During the process he was too embarrassed to disclose the full details of the abuse.

He has since had a psychological assessment, and a meeting with the De La Salle Brothers. After submitting his statement, he accepted a compensation payment many times larger than his previous one. He has never reported the abuse to the police.

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