Matthew* was a happy child from a supportive, though poor, family. His family struggled financially to provide for his education at St Patrick’s Marist Brothers Demonstration School in Dundas, but no doubt felt this was an important sacrifice to make for his future.
For Matthew, however, this was the beginning of a life of illness, depression and a pervasive sense of worthlessness.
In 1976, Matthew was sexually abused by Brother Jerome Hickman, a teacher at the school. The abuse started at a school camp when Matthew was 10 years old. Brother Jerome was the only teacher with the group of boys at the camp. He would come into the boys’ room each night after the lights had been turned out with a torch, to tell ghost stories. In the dark, Brother Jerome would sit on Matthew’s bed, make Matthew sit on his lap, and insert his finger into Matthew’s anus as he told the stories. Afterwards, Brother Jerome would take Matthew back to his room and force Matthew to lick the finger that had been inserted into his anus. He would masturbate while Matthew licked his finger, and then force Matthew to clean up the mess that resulted. He would hit Matthew as he was cleaning. This happened on a near nightly basis while the boys were on their school camp.
With the help of Kelso Lawyers, Matthew was able to secure a meaningful apology from the Catholic Church. We were also able to negotiate a substantial financial settlement, which Matthew plans to spend on the education he missed out on as a child.
In the mornings during the camp, Brother Jerome would rub baby oil on Matthew before going to the beach. This would cause terrible sun burn and significant pain. One afternoon at the camp, Brother Jerome watched all of the boys having showers. He then herded the other boys out of the shower, ordering Matthew to stay back as he was “still a dirty little boy”. Brother Jerome proceeded to lather soap all over Matthew, take his own pants off and order Matthew to suck his penis. When he hesitated, Brother Jerome hit Matthew on his badly sunburned back. Brother Jerome then ejaculated in Matthew’s mouth, ordering him to swallow it, which he did out of fear of being beaten. This made him feel like vomiting. That evening, Brother Jerome anally raped Matthew. Brother Jerome grabbed his throat, threatening him so that he would not tell anyone.
The impact of this abuse was immediate and life changing. Straight away, Matthew started experiencing constant migraines, stomach aches and vomiting. He would continue to be targeted by Brother Jerome, who would humiliate him in front of his class mates with violent punishments, including beatings with cricket bats, being kicked, whipped with a rubber hose and terrifying threats of further abuse.
In the medium term, Matthew’s education suffered. He was determined that no one else would be abused as he was and so publically denounced behaviour of teachers that he considered to be paedophilic. If he saw another student being forced to be alone with a teacher, he would force his way into the classroom to ensure the student was not hurt. Matthew was punished for this behaviour by his teachers, who ensured he learned nothing and put him in the least challenging classes. He also developed chronic high-level anxiety, manifesting in constantly shaking hands and serious and painful bouts of diarrhoea. This diarrhoea had an impact on Matthew professionally, as he chose not to pursue opportunities that would mean he could not access a toilet if needed.
Throughout his life, Matthew has struggled with the repercussions of this abuse. A sense of worthlessness and self-loathing dominated him.
Matthew tried to confront his abuser and the Church in his youth and in adulthood. Both times he was left feeling abandoned and unsupported. This added to his sense of confusion and anger.
Throughout his life, Matthew has struggled with the repercussions of this abuse. A sense of worthlessness and self-loathing dominated him. To this day there are constant reminders of his abuse, including waking up on a hot summer’s day, being sunburnt and many ordinary daily smells. He has had multiple relationship breakdowns, difficulty with employment and has tried to commit suicide several times. The fact that Brother Jerome was never prosecuted for his crimes before he died compounded Matthew’s trauma.
Working with Matthew, Kelso Lawyers arranged a meeting with a Church official and legal representatives, where he was able to explain directly what had happened to him and how the abuse had affected his life. The Church official provided him with a sincere and meaningful apology. Kelso Lawyers also negotiated substantial ex gratia payment as recognition for the abuse he endured. Matthew believed the resolution of his claim would finally allow him to pursue the education he was denied as a result of the abuse. Matthew hopes to be able to move forward, no longer crippled by his financial circumstances, and begin a series of positive chapters in his life.
* Name changed to protect privacy