Victims recount abuse at St Pauls

Victims have recounted alleged abuse at St Paul's Catholic College during the 1970s. file photograph

Victims have recounted alleged abuse at St Paul's Catholic College during the 1970s. file photograph

Victims have described physical and sexual torture they allegedly encountered as students in the 1970s at St Paul's Catholic College in Traralgon at the hands of former principal and sports master Brother Gerard McNamara.

In anonymous victim statements seen by The Express, one person described how the recent compensation claim against the school's administrator – the Marist Brothers – "feels like ripping a scab off an old wound".

It follows a community awareness campaign launched last month which called on students who were abused at the school to register anonymously for a group action to seek compensation from the Marist Brothers for their ordeal.

Eleven new victims have come forward since the campaign was launched less than a month ago, and the organiser expects that number to rise.

One statement revealed how the student, now a mature-aged man, was allegedly assaulted by a teacher on several occasions, including one time where he undressed for the purpose of a massage.

The statement alleged the man, then "a little kid" was summoned to a sports shed after complaining of a sore back in gymnastics before he was "rubbed with Dencorub ... for about 15 minutes" after he was undressed to nothing but his underpants.

About a week later a similar incident occurred where the teacher allegedly undressed the boy before lowering his underpants.

"[The teacher] used the excuse that he didn't want to get Dencorub on my clothing. It made me feel very uneasy – his breathing seemed to be laboured," the statement read.

The statement detailed how after the incident the student was left feeling traumatised after a series of embarrassing comments from students when he returned to the school yard smelling of Dencorub.

"I could hear them asking 'who's been with the rat?', I was so ashamed ... the kids could smell it in the air," the man said in the statement.

The victim went on to experience a series of physical attacks, the statement alleges, including in one instance by the teacher where the boy was pushed into a wall and knocked unconscious.

In another account, a man described how the abuse he experienced as a school-aged student had been a "constant burden on my life" and how he had not had the "guts" to address the issue until recently.

A third witness statement by a former student expressed his support for the group action and said he hoped it would "bring others forward to make a statement to police".

Group action organiser, Michael (who was abused at St Patrick's College in Sale and whose real name has been withheld), said a total of 24 former St Paul's students had now come forward including the 13 historical cases dating back to as late as 2005.

"It's distressing, yet very empowering for the victims that are coming forward, as they finally get answers to questions they had for decades" Michael told The Express.

He said the Marist Brothers colleges at Traralgon and Sale now had more than 80 identified sex abuse victims, with a total compensation claim estimated to be about $79 million, a sum based on two recent Victorian child sex abuse judgments which awarded an average of $995,0000 per victim in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

The former principal and sports master of St Paul's was Marist brother Gerard Joseph McNamara, who in 2016 pleaded guilty to three counts of indecently assaulting a male under the age of 16 following the abuse of two boys in 1975.

Students have alleged a second, who has since died, was also involved in abuse at the school.

In May, a spokesman for The Marist Brothers' Province of Australia said they fully supported anyone bringing forward complaints about historic matters of abuse and encouraged them to do so.

"We urge any person with any evidence of criminal conduct, no matter how long ago it occurred, to report that directly to the police so that the proper investigation can be conducted," a Marist Brothers spokesman said.

The spokesman said Marist Brothers fully accepted some religious and lay people in their facilities committed abuse against children "and for that we are deeply sorry and unreserved in our apology".

"We are unable to change the past, however, we will continue to work to provide healing to those who have suffered abuse in our institutions."

If men would like or seek more assistance or help, phone Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault on 5134 3922 or visit gcasa.org.au.

Former students of St Paul's in Traralgon can contact Michael directly and confidentially by emailing will.waterside@outlook.com.

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