ABC broadcaster and abuse survivor Eoin Cameron has urged people who were abused to come forward and give evidence at the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.
Speaking on the ABC’s 7.30 WA program, Mr Cameron said memories of the abuse he experienced at the hands of a Marist brother in South Australia around 40 years ago were ever present in his life.
“People will say, oh, get over it, it’s something that happened that long ago. I can tell you, it’s the god’s honour truth, not a day of my life goes by when it doesn’t come into my brain.
“You can never ever forget something like that,” Mr Cameron said.
He would not have known how to broach the matter with his parents, at the time the abuse was occurring.
A 12-year-of-old 50 years ago was more like an eight to ten year old today, he said, in their knowledge of sexuality.
“You don’t even have the words to express what’s happened to you … You are trapped virtually in your own head and you’ve got no way of getting away from it and the fact is you end up thinking ‘it’s my fault’ … you feel you’re dirty.”
For many years, he showered five to six times a day, trying to ‘get clean’.
While he had heard from a lot of victims who were anxious to tell their stories, coming forward would be a daunting and traumatic process for many.
He hoped the Royal Commission would allow victims to give evidence in camera, and that there names would not be published, to encourage their involvement.
Mr Cameron told the 7.30 WA program he thought he had got through the worst part of coming forward in contacting the Marist Order and Catholic Church officials several years ago.
He shared his personal experience of Towards Healing, the Catholic Church’s national protocol for handling claims of sexual, emotional and physical abuse, which he undertook in Perth around three years ago.
Although he said he believed Towards Healing had been set up to facilitate recovery and healing, he still found it a daunting process:
“For a start the office here in Perth is in a church building, it smelt like a church building; like a church institution.
“You give them your evidence and it’s all written down pretty well without comment,” Mr Cameron said.
The case was eventually investigated and heard in Melbourne.
The Marist brother denied having abused him and for a time it looked like there would be no resolution to his claim.
“It’s your word against his, and I thought ‘well, there’s not much else I can do about it’,” Mr Cameron said.
At around that time a man from Wangaratta, Victoria also came forward with allegations against the man, followed in the time since, by other men.
Mr Cameron eventually received an apology from the Marist Order and financial compensation.
Around 12 months ago, however, he discovered the same Marist brother had been given an award, along with other Marist brothers, commending him for “the lives he has touched”.
Mr Cameron said: “I was so cross I said, pretty much, ‘you can tear up your apology because you’ve just gone and honoured this person after everything you know about him’.”
Mr Cameron wrote a letter renouncing his Catholicism, which he sent to the then-Archbishop of Perth Barry Hickey, to the Marist Brothers, and to the office of Cardinal George Pell.
“Barry Hickey wrote back a very moving and warm letter, even offering to meet with me if I felt up to it. I got a ‘blah blah blah’ from the Marist brothers” and a letter of acknowledgement from the office of Cardinal Pell.
Last week The Record reported that Cardinal Pell and the Australian bishops had welcomed the Royal Commission and promised to co-operate with it.
Cardinal Pell held a press conference on Tuesday, November 13 welcoming the announcement of a commission “to help the victims, to clear the air, [and] to separate fact from fiction”. Cardinal Pell also asserted that claims of abuse in the Catholic Church had been exaggerated by a hostile media.
His statement has been criticised by some victim groups and sections of the media.
However Mr Cameron said he thought the media have not been attentive enough.
“If anything the media has been a bit slack. Why has it taken so long to get on to this?”
Earlier this week, Western Australian Premier Colin Premier rejected the idea of a joint Commonwealth-State commission and said the Federal Government would have to think carefully about the commission’s terms of reference if it was to fulfil community hopes.
The Government released a consultation paper on November 19, inviting submissions from the community up until November 26 on what the Royal Commission’s terms of reference should be.
“Part of learning what the right process is for the future and how to stop a tragedy occurring…is for us to learn from that history and we know that many victims want to be able to tell their story,” Attorney-General Nicola Roxon told ABC radio on Tuesday.
“Equally we know that many don’t want to or have already spoken to particular inquiries and want to make sure they are taking account of.”
“We know for many people [telling their stories] is a really important, cathartic process, being able to have their story properly heard and listened to and understood.”
Ms Roxon said the Government was open minded about the way to do that.
Input into the terms of reference of the Royal Commission can be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to:
Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse
PO Box 6555
Canberra ACT 2600