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Anthony John's story

‘I was a mess. I was a mess for years and years and years, till 2011. Till I started having memories that allowed me to deal with it, to make sense of my life.’

Anthony was in his 50s then, enrolled in a social sciences course that required personal reflection. The process prompted him to recover memories of extreme and violent sexual abuse by close family members, beginning when he was about four in the early 1960s and lasting for several years.

‘I’d had a sense that I’d been sexually abused, but I had no sense of the depth of it or the violence of it. It didn’t come out straight away … it’s no wonder that I fled from it psychologically. The whole idea of stepping outside your body makes perfect sense to me. Otherwise you just wouldn’t survive those things.’

Anthony was one of the younger siblings in a large Catholic family, growing up in Tasmania. ‘I told my parents [at the time] and I wasn’t believed and it was never spoken of again,’ he said.

‘So I learned really clearly that whatever happened, telling my parents was a waste of time … There’s nothing worse than when something seriously happens as a kid and you seek help and get … disbelieved.’

The painful nature of his new recollections led Anthony to seek counselling, through Relationships Australia. He has high praise for the counsellor he saw: ‘The guy who was doing that, bloody hell, he was brilliant – he taught me how to trust. Just amazing.’

With the support of the counsellor, Anthony continued to uncover memories. In his school years he’d been a student at a Marist Brothers high school. Now he remembered multiple incidents of abuse that had taken place in one of his classes, when he was about 12. The class was taught by Father Nugent, who would masturbate Anthony and other boys and get them to masturbate each other.

Anthony believes the abuse he’d already experienced, and the way his disclosure had been ignored, would have made him an easy target for Nugent.

‘I would have already been showing the signs of someone who was never going to speak out or speak up,’ he said.

‘My recollection is he was trying to manipulate us into believing that we obviously wanted it, otherwise we wouldn’t get aroused. Which then confuses you. I had no voice, I had no sense of self-worth then anyway, so he could have said anything he wanted, really …

‘This sense that I’d already learned that speaking up doesn’t get you anywhere, that there’s no point, so you’re not fighting against it, you don’t speak out, you don’t even say no. You just feel a sense of powerlessness.’

Anthony left school early - ‘I didn’t want anything to do with school’ - and moved interstate for many years. He now lives in the Northern Territory. He self-medicated with alcohol, and has been unable to maintain intimate relationships.

‘My situation has also got years of abuse from inside the family on top of it,’ he explained. ‘What it meant for me was no one was trustworthy. Everyone was potentially dangerous.’

The longest relationship he’s had lasted for six years. ‘And that’s quite sad, really. Relationships do end, but a healthy relationship tends to last a bit longer than six years. I just couldn’t trust enough. I was always looking for the betrayal. For something going wrong.’

Anthony was referred to a specialist trauma counsellor. He’s been diagnosed with complex PTSD, a diagnosis that came as ‘an absolute relief’. He approached the local diocese of the Catholic Church to ask about support groups and was told there weren’t any. The woman he spoke to took his details and referred him to the Professional Standards office.

Then, he said, ‘She just stopped and looked me in the eyes and just told me how extremely sorry she was that this had happened to me in my life. It was one of those moments when the truth gets said at exactly the right time and someone shows the compassion – and I just walked out and bawled and bawled and bawled … It was quite amazing’.

Contact with Professional Standards led to a meeting at which he was asked to sign a document stating that the Church agreed to investigate his complaint if he agreed not to report it to police or any other government agency.

‘I was still a mess but I knew that just wasn’t right. I said I wasn’t prepared to sign that, and they said well, that’s as far as we can take it.’

He was also offered a private meeting with the archbishop, and decided to turn this down. At the time, he felt too vulnerable. ‘I don’t know how naive they are but if they haven’t thought about that power differential it’s just stupid.’ For the same reason, he hasn’t pursued any legal or police action so far.

‘My memory is so hit and miss … and what’s that mean if you’re in an adversarial situation like a court room – so I have always felt too vulnerable to do something about it. But a part of me thinks – like a part of me rationally says the best thing I can do is to get on with my life … Another part of me thinks that there ought to be some sort of compensation for what got taken from me – which is a lot of my childhood. And so I haven’t reconciled all of that at this stage.’

He was comforted by a letter from the head of the Marist Brothers, who invited Anthony to contact him when he was ready and acknowledged that Father Nugent, the perpetrator, had been jailed for offences against other children.

‘It was nice that it was offered in the way that it was offered.’

Anthony believes schools are safer places now than they were.

‘Schools encourage children to speak up for themselves and be outspoken and not be submissive, and I think that goes a long way. And I think there’s a greater awareness that there are always motivating factors for children’s behaviour.’

He hopes teachers are trained to recognise ‘that behaviour is a sign of other things occurring for people … I don’t know if that’s actually in teaching these days or not but it should be’.

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