First-Hand: He'd wait until midnight, then shake me awake: Joseph Ellas recalls how he was repeatedly sexually abused at his Catholic boarding school

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Joseph Ellas is a pseudonym

I WAS nine years old and in my first year at Catholic boarding school when Brother Martin (as I shall call him) went to bed with me. He was in his mid-thirties, a short man with a clean-cut face and NHS spectacles. I was small for my age and, having lived abroad until then, spoke no English.

Most of the boys at the school loved Brother Martin. He was kind to us and unlike other members of the same religious order, he did not administer beatings at the slightest misdemeanour on our part.

My father, who took me to the school that autumn, developed an immediate rapport with him. I remember dad telling me: 'If ever you have a problem, talk to Brother Martin. He will take my place when I am not here.'

The dormitory I shared was next door to Brother Martin's own bedroom. One night, about six weeks after I arrived there, I had a nightmare and woke up crying. I got out of bed and knocked on Brother Martin's door, still in tears.

He sat me on his lap, stroking my hair, all the while talking quietly and reassuringly. I calmed down.

'Why don't you get into my bed and sleep here for a little while. I'll sit in this armchair and watch over you,' he said. I fell asleep.

I woke up several hours later. Brother Martin was in bed with me. He had his arms around me, fondling my body. I froze, not daring to say a word. An hour or so later he carried me back to my own bed.

After that, Brother Martin would come for me at least once a week, waiting until the other boys were asleep before taking me to his room. While he pawed at me I would lie there silently, pretending that nothing was happening. When, a few weeks later, I heard he was being transferred to the senior boys' school, I felt almost dizzy with relief. It didn't end there.

On Sunday afternoons, when we were all expected at Benediction service, Brother Martin would send a message that he wanted to see me.

I would try to hide in one of the empty classrooms, but he almost always found me. When he did, he would hold me tightly, kissing me on the mouth, stroking me, telling me how much he 'loved' me.

The following year I went up to the senior school, where Brother Martin was waiting for me. This time I was in a large barrack-style dormitory, three rows of 10 evenly-spaced beds, with his room at the end. My bed was almost opposite his room.

Brother Martin carried on as before. He would wait until midnight, then shake me awake. Sometimes I managed to pretend I was fast asleep and could not be woken up. Usually, I went to his room.

He seemed oblivious to the possibility of getting caught. I later discovered that several boys were being assaulted in the same way. I still remember when one of my former schoolmates, someone we always thought of as a hard case, broke down in tears as he told me of his own experience.

After a year, Brother Martin was transferred abroad by the order. I thought I would never have to see him again.

When I was 16, I moved to another of its schools on the South Coast. Brother Martin was there, once again in charge of its junior wing. During my 18 months there, we hardly spoke to each other, pretending we hardly knew each other. Only after I had taken my A-levels and was leaving school the next day did I try to confront him. I don't remember what I asked, but his reply is burned in my mind: 'Don't pretend you didn't enjoy what we did. I know you liked it.'

It all took place more than 25 years ago, yet many of us who were abused have been left emotionally scarred. One former pupil has suffered several nervous breakdowns. Another committed suicide while still in his twenties.

It is easy to hate Brother Martin for what happened and I do. Deep down, however, I hate myself more than I hate him. Had I but tried, maybe I could have stopped him abusing me. Maybe he would not have gone on doing it to the others.

Or maybe, as he told me that day, I enjoyed it.

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