Royal Commission hears testimony of systematic abuse

Originally posted on May 22, 2015

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began its public hearings this week. The hearings are taking place in Ballartis holding long-awaited public hearings in Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. The purpose is to examine the abuse children experiences at the hands of Catholic clergy over the last few decades, particularly during the 1970s. It is not good:

Ballarat was one of the most horrific sites of abuse and it was revealed that in 1971, all male teachers and the chaplain at the St Alipius primary school were molesting children.

[Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission Gail] Furness said the royal commission would also hear from a survivor who had a photograph of his grade four class at St Alipius in the 1970s.

She said he would tell the hearing, of the 33 boys pictured, 12 had committed suicide.

That is astounding. It is shocking in part because of the severity of the impact. A third of the boys from a single class committed suicide. More troubling is that apparently all the men in positions of power in the school abused children. It also appears that many of the women at the schools knew of the abuse and did nothing to stop it. Sometimes they engaged in abuse themselves.

I find it difficult to believe that something like that could happen and no one would know about it. There are too many people, both abusers and victims, involved for this to go unheard and unseen. This is not just a cover-up by the Catholic Church. This also implicates the Australian local government. Many people had to know about this and choose to ignore it for it to get to this stage.

The stories the men share are particularly horrific, not only in their physical brutality but also in the callousness displayed by the abusers and their enablers. For example:

[Gordon] Hill said he was among a group at the home known as “the Drones”, children who had no-one and instead of going to school were put to work.

He said he was assigned a number and a locker number, instead of a name, and did not know his own surname until he was 10 years old.

Mr Hill told the inquiry he was first abused by a priest at age five, in a dungeon-like environment he called “the horror rooms”.

“I was given a drink … I blacked out,” he said.

“When I woke up my genitals and bottom hurt … I discovered bite marks. The priest told me to get out.”

Mr Hill said a nun had told him to go to the rooms.

“Father wants to cleanse you, 29,” the nuns said to him.

He said when he woke up and walked outside, “The nun was laughing. Big joke to her … she told me to get back to work. Maybe because I was walking funny.”

Stephen Woods also recounted his abuse:

Mr Woods told the hearing he knew he was gay from a young age.

He said he thought notorious paedophile Robert Best first caught wind of this when he was a 12-year-old at St Alipius Primary School.

“[Best] wanted to know all the details,” he said.

“He had me and another 12-year-old boy enact a sexual act in front of him.”

He described Best’s abuse as both physical and psychological.

“He told me I was bad, he told me I was evil and that I deserved what he did to me,” Mr Woods said.

“He told me, ‘this is all your fault’. I heard these words from him over and over and over again.”

I think of situations like these when I hear people mocking men for coming forward years later. Most people who make fun of these men have no idea what they actually suffered. People may accept that the men were anally and orally assaulted, however, they often fail to understand that it does not stop with the physical assault.

The psychological impact is usually the most devastating. Both Woods and Hill show that. Hill is in his 70s, yet he still broke down when he talked about what happened to him decades ago. These men are not alone. Many more men will share their stories to Commission.

What comes after the hearings is another matter. Australia has a terrible history of doing little help male victims of abuse. It is unclear what will happen once the Commission hears all the testimony. It is possible they will advise the Australian government to create more services for male victims, yet I do not think the government will do so.

I hope these hearings prompt more compassion for male victims, if nothing else. Hearing what these men suffered as boys should make people realize that boys are not invulnerable to abuse. It hurts them just as much as it does girls, and they have the added burden of having to pretend nothing happened because few people will believe them. Let us at least prove the latter wrong.

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