Winston was sexually abused as a student at a Catholic high school in the early 1970s. As an adult he belonged to an order of Catholic Brothers. He later worked in the Catholic education system, at a remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia.
His experiences meant he had multiple perspectives on the issue of institutional responses to child sex abuse, and a range of recommendations to bring to the Royal Commission.
Winston’s account began with the abuse he suffered from Brother Inkerton, one of his teachers at high school. It started in Winston’s first year and took place in the classroom twice a week or so, and regularly but less often over the next two years as well. Inkerton would slip his hand down Winston’s pants and fondle him. It was common to see him doing the same to other boys.
‘At the ripe old age of 55, this is the first time I have ever disclosed the abuse that occurred to me, apart from telling my partner … I have never really discovered the best time to divulge these difficult experiences’, Winston said, reading from a statement he brought with him.
None of the boys at school talked about what Brother Inkerton did, and Winston couldn’t speak to his parents. They were strict Catholics, and he feared being abandoned by them. He felt guilty, confused and afraid that if discovered, people would think he had participated in or encouraged the abuse. His school marks plummeted, as did his confidence and self-esteem.
‘My young life became very complex and I felt extremely isolated as those around me knew nothing of the suffering within, nor was there anywhere to go for assistance.’
At the same time, Winston was trying to come to terms with his emerging homosexuality, in a ‘hostile and unforgiving environment’. Eventually, he accepted it. ‘I don’t know why, but I did. I just thought, “Okay, I’m gay and that’s it. I need to deal with it”.’
He decided on a life of celibacy, virtue, and contributing to the world. ‘I decided I would become a saint’, he told the Commissioner.
However, in his late 20s, a traumatic mental breakdown brought to an end the career he’d established working for national and international aid organisations. Recovery took some years. Believing still that his homosexuality meant he could never have a partner, he decided to join a religious order. As he saw it, this was an opportunity to be part of a ‘like-minded and just-seeking movement’, focussed on ‘being hospitable to the most vulnerable of people in our society and around the world’.
It also made it easier to be gay.
‘[It] became a release to the constant stresses of hiding my sexuality and becoming a respected member of the community, so it gave me some sort of identity … I didn’t have to defend the reasons why I wasn’t married or didn’t have children or whatever.’
As one of the Brothers, Winston met honourable people doing honourable work, he said. But he also met perversion, depravity and people with secrets to hide, sheltered within a corrupt system of authority, wealth and power. ‘It was the perfect environment for dysfunctional behaviour to flourish’, he said.
Winston shared many examples of the issues he encountered in the order: substance abuse, pornography, bullying, widespread child sex abuse and other sexual activity. He got a ‘thorough education’ about the places men go for gay sex, he said – ‘Not something that you’d expect, joining a religious order’. There were denials and cover-ups. When Winston tried to raise his concerns, he’d be moved on to another community.
‘The majority, the hierarchy, the ones who were in power and control … the world was their oyster and they could do what they liked, including abusing children’, he said.
Disillusioned, he felt he couldn’t take final vows. After seven years, he left the order. But his desire to make a positive contribution to society remained and led him eventually to another role with the Catholic Church, this time managing an education and training program for Aboriginal youth in a Western Australian community. Winston was by now with his partner, who worked alongside him in the program. Both were greatly disturbed by some of the inappropriate behaviours they saw at the local Catholic school. In the absence of child-protection polices and proper supervision, young students were at risk of sexual abuse by staff.
Winston raised his concerns with the school principal and on up the hierarchy to the Catholic Education Office. Nothing was done. Winston and his partner felt they had no choice but to resign.
‘I don’t know to this day if anything has happened there’, Winston told the Commissioner. ‘But it was – I mean, I had a great sense; I lived this bloody sexual assault stuff, it kept haunting me everywhere I went … I know my sexual abuse was regarded as not as brutal as something like sodomy and rape and all that sort of stuff – but the effect that touching had on me was so profound that I would be buggered if any other kid is going to suffer it.’
Winston’s recommendations to the Commission addressed compensation, funding for counselling and legal costs, and the release of information. He wanted to see improved psychological assessment and training of Church personnel and improved policies on working with children and young people. He proposed various penalties for the Church and other institutions which fail to meet their responsibilities and obligations to children, and the development of programs to help the survivors of child sex abuse, and to ensure offenders don’t re-offend.
Last of all, he suggested an ongoing education campaign that highlighted the ‘scourge and shamefulness of child sexual abuse in Australian society’, and encouraged the proper treatment of children – that they be ‘nurtured, cared for and celebrated as a force for goodness in Australian community life’.