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William James's story

William was one of the oldest kids in his large family, and was first placed in care at the age of three. He believes he was made a ward of the state because his parents were unable to hold down work, or maintain stable accommodation.

In the late 1960s, when he was 12 years old, he and his younger brother were moved to a Christian Brother’s orphanage in Victoria. The Brothers regularly flogged him. Staff at the home used to watch William showering. They would pull his foreskin back to check if he had washed himself properly, even though he assured them he had.

One of the other boys at the home, Jerry, sexually abused William. They were around the same age, and Jerry would come into William’s bedroom at night – ‘he’d always talk about sex’. He would instruct William to masturbate him until he ejaculated.

Jerry tried to anally penetrate William on one occasion. ‘It was hurting too much, so he stopped. He ended up just sticking it between my legs.’

This abuse, ‘happened probably half a dozen times, until I finally told him, I don’t want you to do that anymore’. Jerry also sexually abused other boys, including William’s little brother.

William experienced physical and psychological abuse from his houseparents at the orphanage. This included having a bucket of hot water thrown over him, causing him to fall over, after which his housefather kicked and punched him.

This man also broke the collarbone of William’s brother, and screamed verbal abuse at them. He exploited them for child labour, and made them perform heavy manual work.

The daughter of his houseparents had a cubby house in the backyard. She tried to get William and another boy to go there, ‘and play doctors and patients with her. But we said, “Oh, piss off” ... She threatened to tell her parents that we were touching her’.

They didn’t want this to happen, as they thought the housefather would flog them. So they went to cubby house and took their pants off. She tried to make William have sex with her, and then his friend. ‘I had to sit beside the window, and watch out that nobody’s coming in.’

This girl also watched while they got a hiding from their housefather, which happened with their pants down.

William suffered ‘very bad nervous reactions. I was stuttering a lot’ and had nervous tics. ‘They [his houseparents] didn’t want to look at me, because I was like a retard to them, I suppose ... They used to put a tea towel on my head when I used to eat dinner, so they didn’t have to watch me.’

William told no one about the sexual abuse at the time. However, he reported the physical abuse to the head Brother at the home. This Brother called him a liar, and gave him a hiding. When he got back to his houseparents, they also gave him a hiding for reporting them.

It was the early 2000s when William first disclosed the sexual abuse, reporting it to the Christian Brothers, as well as the Catholic Church. He had an hour-long meeting with a Church representative, who advised the Church was ‘not interested, because we’re only looking for people that’s been sexually abused by a priest’. He is now intending to pursue a class action with other victims from the orphanage.

William recently reported the sexual abuse to police, after media reports about other investigations into similar abuse. He chased up this investigation several times, and was told that it had stopped. He understands this is because Jerry told police he didn’t recall anything.

These multiple abuses have had long-lasting impacts on William’s life, including aggression, which has caused workplace trouble and many different jobs. William’s previous marriages have broken down, and he is scared of hurting his children because of his issues with aggression.

Twice, he has attempted suicide, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The psychiatrist who made these diagnoses also helped him understand that the abuse was not his fault. Until this time, he had always wondered ‘if I was a bad person. If I caused this myself’.

William seen a psychologist for a couple of years. Whilst he finds it hard to reopen old wounds, he does feeling like this therapy is helping him. His children are also a great source of support – ‘they’re my strength’.

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