opinion

Ballarat victim had teeth pulled out by nuns with pliers.

UPDATE: Victim had teeth pulled out by nuns with pliers, royal commission hears.

Nuns used pliers to pull out the teeth of a child sex abuse victim at a Ballarat orphanage, and he was also locked in a dungeon known as the “horror room” and abused by a priest, an inquiry has heard.

Giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Gordon Hill – now in his 70s – said he was taken to the St Joseph’s Home as a three-year-old.

He told the inquiry he could still remember “all the little kids getting on the bus” in 1946.

Mr 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.

Gordon Hill, now in his 70s, said he was taken to the St Joseph's Home as a three-year-old. Image via ABC.

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."

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On other occasions Mr Hill said he was strapped down naked, tied up and sexually abused.

"Sometimes the nuns would punish us by pulling out a tooth with a pair of pliers or hitting one of us in the head with an engineer's hammer."

Mr Hill told the inquiry his mouth was so sore after having his teeth removed he could not eat, so he fed his food to a mouse he made a pet of in the dungeon.

He said sticks were broken across his back and he still bears the scars.

"I made a mess on the floor because I was bleeding so much ... I was left in a room with a bucket behind a soundproof door. For a bed I had a concrete slab," he said.

"I stayed there about a month. The nuns told me nobody wants you, nobody cares about you. You're just a nobody."

Mr Hill also described being tortured with electric shock therapy while was tied down, with pads on his head and neck, and a catheter inserted 'so I didn't make a mess'."

He said his hair on the back of his head never grew back from where it bounced against the bed.

"Sometimes I think, how the hell did I survive all that happened to me?" he said.

Mr Hill began crying as he recalled the ongoing nightmares and role the abuse had taken on in his life.

"I felt like an outcast, always in the background, from all the rejection I got when I was at St Joseph's," he said.

"One of the last things my wife said before she died ... was that she hoped one day I could tell my story."

Victim wants review of child abuse-related deaths

Mr Hill told the commission someone had to pay.

"The Catholic Church should be turned upside down," he said.

He added: "It's time they came out from behind the robe and repaid the poor. I want to make sure that kids who are sexually abused are not forgotten anymore."

Mr Hill said the Victorian Government should also pay because its inspectors failed so many children.

He said a full study should be conducted on how many lives had been lost to drugs, abuse and suicide, as a result of the abuse.

"I bet they haven't [done one]," he said.

"They would run out of paper."

Mr Hill said he planned to stay on at the hearing today and for the coming weeks, to support other survivors.

The hearing continues.

This post originally appeared on the ABC and was republished here with full permission. 

Debrief Daily previously reported ...

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As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse begins its first public hearings in Ballarat, five victims have called for recognition, justice and a national scheme to support survivors.

During the 1960s and 1970s, a notorious paedophile ring preyed on children in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat.

Catholic priest Gerald Ridsdale, Brother Robert Best, Brother Ted Dowlan and Brother Stephen Frances Farrell were among the convicted paedophiles who operated in the area.

Beginning on Tuesday, May 19 and continuing for the next three weeks, the royal commission will hear evidence from survivors of abuse at Catholic Church institutions in Ballarat.

They will hear evidence from students, parents and other witnesses, as well as the response of five Catholic institutions to clergy abuse.

Many of the victims hope to achieve a sense of justice, but they are also calling for reform, and these five men insist the Government must act now.

To speak to someone about sexual abuse, contact the Victorian Centre Against Sexual Assault on 1800 806 292, or if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Peter Blenkiron, 52, Ballarat

Peter Blenkiron was abused by a Christian Brother when he was 11 years old.

A student at St Patrick's Secondary School in Ballarat, he said convicted paedophile Edward Dowlan would set difficult homework and then punish him for not being able to complete it.

Dowlan made the students look the other way while he punished them with physical abuse, before comforting and then sexually abusing them.

Peter Blenkiron, image via ABC.

"The worst stuff happened when I hadn't finished my homework, I was made to go back to his room," he said.

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"When I reflect back on it, it makes me want to throw up, it makes me feel very damaged."

Mr Blenkiron said that although in earlier adulthood he was a high achiever, the trauma was a "ticking time-bomb".

He said he had seen other victims struggling with severe depression and suicide.

"I lost everything: I lost my business, I lost relationships that were important to me, I lost property. I battled the suicide option for 12 years. I'm a broken man," he said.

Victims have long had hope for the introduction of a support scheme, a model similar to TAC or Work Cover, which would provide support for things like housing, medical expenses and counselling.

That idea has been backed by churches, charities and victim support groups.

Cardinal George Pell previously vowed that the Catholic Church would review its compensation payments, even if it cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

But in March, the Federal Government made a submission to the royal commission rejecting a national support scheme because of the time and resources it would require, an announcement that devastated Mr Blenkiron.

"Obviously the relationship between Pell and (Prime Minister Tony) Abbott is more important than sorting out the damage that was caused by child rape from members of the clergy, that was known about all those years by the hierarchy of the church," he said.

"I believe that the people that could make those decisions believe it's easier to do nothing and let the problems die away.

"Hitler used the gas chamber; this Government is using time to just let people die.

"The blood is on their hands."

Stephen Woods, 53, Melbourne

Stephen Woods said he was abused by three different men under the Catholic auspice while growing up in Ballarat.

Two of his older brothers were also sexually abused.

He said his first abuser was Robert Charles Best, the principal of St Alipius Primary School.

"I was 11 years old, and I was down the back in the classroom sitting on the art table and he came up and sat next to me and started putting his hand down the back of my pants," he said.

Stephen Woods, image via ABC.
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"He saw me withdraw and he started to become very violent."

Mr Woods said the sexual abuse was coupled with verbal abuse.

"He would get me to slowly strip for him while he would masturbate behind his desk. And all the while he would tell me that it was my fault, that I was bad, that I was evil," he said.

"He would then put me over his knee and then he would have a good feel of my ass and then smack me."

Robert Best was found not guilty by a court of sexually assaulting Mr Woods.

However, he has since been found guilty of crimes against more than 10 other boys and is currently serving jail time.

Mr Woods said he believed he did not receive justice through the legal system but hoped the royal commission would give him the recognition he deserved.

His next abuser was Brother Ted Dowlan, his religious teacher.

"He would feel your penis and testicles through your pants," Mr Woods said.

"He kept saying my family couldn't make it and they were awful, so he would really be quite vicious in putting me down while molesting me."

In his teens, as he begun to develop issues with sex and his sexuality, Mr Woods went to see a priest.

It was here that his third abuser, Gerald Ridsdale, preyed on him.

"He started asking me a whole lot of questions, and more and more personal and graphic details about sex and what I was doing," he said.

Mr Woods said Ridsdale then began molesting him and forced him to perform a sex act.

"Then he drove me around Lake Wendouree to a toilet block where he dragged me inside, where he raped me," Mr Woods said.

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Both Dowlan and Ridsdale were convicted of sexually abusing Mr Woods and are currently serving time in prison.

Since going public about his abuse in 1995, Mr Woods has become a voice for other survivors of child sex abuse who want to share the severe impacts it has had on their lives.

"I didn't want to have my idea that it was my fault, because it wasn't - it was not my fault," he said.

"I have had a very disjointed job history, I struggled a lot at school, I only passed year nine and it was years and years later that I forced myself through university.

"I even became a teacher, but my anger started coming out more and started coming out in the classroom. So I had to retire."

Philip Nagle, 50, Ballarat

Philip Nagle grew up on a family farm near Ballan. He moved from the local Catholic school to St Alipius in Ballarat in 1973.

"I was sexually abused by Stephen Frances Farrell, a Christian Brother, in 1974," Mr Nagel said.

"Everything from then on is blanked out - I have no recollections of grade six, only recollections of the sexual assaults and being scared all the time."

Mr Nagle said he was assaulted on the school campus and during camps.

Philip Nagle, image via ABC.

The first assault was the most vivid in his memory.

"I was taken to the first aid bay by Farrell," he said.

"He wrestled me to the ground, and he took my pants off."

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Aged just nine, Mr Nagle said he did not realise he was being sexually assaulted at the time, only that he did not want it to happen again.

"He was holding me down and doing something, he lifted up his black gown," he said.

"When he got up and left, then I realised I was all wet between my legs and genitals, I came to find out later that he had ejaculated on me."

Like many of the victims, Mr Nagle said manipulation and childhood innocence meant it was not until later in life that he realised the severity of the crime, or the scope of abuse going on around him.

"I was obviously very glad and relieved when Brother Stephen Farrell took another boy out of the classroom instead of me," he said.

"We didn't actually know what was happening to us, but certainly when you look back now, you just think: how can so many evil Christian Brother paedophiles be in one place at the same time?

"All the baddies were there at once."

Farrell was convicted of nine counts of assault in 1997 for the abuse of Mr Nagle and his brother, but Mr Nagle said he felt the courts did not give them any sense of justice.

"The court case was an absolutely horrible thing," he said.

"He had three or four hours of witnesses coming up saying what a good bloke he was."

Farrell was given a suspended sentence, with no jail time.

"There is no justice in that for the crimes that he committed, they were evil, they were violent, they were totally inappropriate for a man of God to be committing on students in his care," he said.

"The courts have got it wrong."

Like the four other abuse survivors, Mr Nagle has battled with relationship breakdowns and psychological trauma.

"I've had three marriages, three divorces, I'm a hard ass, I've got no friends," he said.

"I wish I could press the reset button and start it all over again."

Andrew Collins, 46, Mount Helen

Between the age of 11 and his teenage years, Andrew Collins said he was abused by four different men at Ballarat schools and churches.

"They were all sexual abuses involving anal rape, digital rape, fondling, harassment," he said.

As he got older, he began to realise that what he had endured was wrong.

Andrew Collins, image via ABC.
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But when he began speaking out, he was not believed.

"Unfortunately when I did start telling people I realised that children don't have a voice," he said.

"A priest is a powerful member of the community and some people just place them up on such a huge pedestal and it's very hard for people to believe that religious people could actually do that sort of stuff."

Mr Collins said when he thought about his school years, he felt like a terrified child again.

"The fear, that's the stuff that still comes back in nightmares, that's the stuff that haunts you."

Mr Collins said two of his abusers died before he was able to seek to bring them to justice.

Unnamed, 58

One man, who did not want to be identified, said he had only recently started to get his life back on track after speaking out about abuse he encountered in the 1960s.

"It's put me in a spiral of substance abuse, not knowing who I was or where I was going, not focus on life," he said.

The 58-year-old said he hoped the royal commission would empower other survivors to talk about their abuse.

He also called for justice and reform.

"Justice for what they've done to me and not only for me - it's impacted on my children, my wife and everyone that's ever been involved in me," he said.

"Instead of this government doing the right thing, they have re-traumatised victims and survivors; this government is trying to abandon us and tell us to go back to a legal system that has totally failed us."

This post originally appeared on the ABC and was republished here with full permission. 
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