An elderly man who was subjected to “degrading” and “humiliating” sexual abuse by Christian Brothers in West Australian orphanages has been awarded more than $1.3 million in damages in what has been described as a “landmark” decision.
- John Lawrence was abused by several brothers throughout his childhood
- The attacks took place at the the Castledare and Clontarf orphanages
- The ruling exceeds a $1m payment made to another orphanage victim
WARNING: This story contains material that some readers may find upsetting
John Thomas Lawrence, 75, was the first child sex abuse survivor to testify about his ordeal since WA removed time limits on courts being able to determine historical sexual abuse cases.
The $1.32 million payment is believed to be the highest ever ordered by a court against the Christian Brothers religious order.
Mr Lawrence was eight years old in 1952 when he was brought to Australia from England as a child migrant along with other boys.
For eight years he lived at the Clontarf and Castledare boys homes that were operated by the Christian Brothers, where he was repeatedly subjected to what District Court Judge Mark Herron described as insulting, humiliating and degrading abuse.
Judge Herron said Mr Lawrence was also severely physically abused, neglected, intimidated and subjected to other cruel behaviour.
The payment surpasses $1 million awarded to dying man Paul Bradshaw by a WA court in 2018 for abuse also suffered at Clontarf and Castledare.
Survivor urges others to come forward
Mr Lawrence, who has been diagnosed with leukaemia and diabetes, said he was “quite shocked” by the payout.
“I’m just glad it got this far after 60-odd years,” he said.
“Money’s not everything, I’m just glad I told my story.”
He said he also felt vindicated and urged other victims to take action.
“I want all of the other men who went to the orphanages to come forward now,” he said.
“I just wish they’d come forward and tell all their stories, get it out in the open.”
Abuse by four men
The trial was told of protracted abuse Mr Lawrence suffered at the hands of Christian Brother Lawrence Murphy, who perpetrated six rapes against the young boy.
The organisation also admitted abuse by two other brothers, Francis Marques and Alonzo Angus, and further crimes committed by lay teacher Joey Jackson.
All the men have since died.
Judge Herron singled out Brother Murphy in his judgement, saying Mr Lawrence “lived in perpetual fear and terror of being … raped and sexually abused in other ways by Brother Murphy”.
‘John’s created legal history’
Mr Lawrence’s lawyer, Michael Magazanik, said the judgment was a landmark.
“It’s the first time in Western Australian history that a judge here has passed judgment on what was a complete local disaster … so John’s created legal history,” he said.
“Hundreds of children were damaged by the abuse at the Christian Brother orphanages and what the judge has done is shine a bright spotlight on that disaster.”
“The human cost of all that abuse, the cost [of] the suffering and the misery is now coming home to roost for the Christian Brothers.”
Mr Magazanik said his client was “the first of many men who want their day in court”.
“It’s John’s tenacity and grit and determination that has seen him through this really gruelling episode,” Mr Magazanik said.
Bid to reduce payment due to poor upbringing
The Christian Brothers admitted liability on the first day of the trial, but sought to reduce the sum of money that should be paid, arguing that Mr Lawrence’s early childhood experiences, including his mother’s abandonment of him, meant he had poor economic and educational prospects regardless of the abuse.
In his 326 page judgement, Judge Herron categorically rejected that argument.
“I am satisfied that despite that early disadvantage and dysfunction in his life, there was every chance Mr Lawrence, had it not been for the sexual abuse, would have had reasonable prospects of leading a reasonably normal life,” he said.
“That prospect was extinguished by the … rapes to which Mr Lawrence was subjected, together with the other forms of abuse perpetrated on him … by sexual abusers masquerading as Brothers, who were supposed to be responsible for the care and protection of Mr Lawrence.”
‘Salt in the wound defence is dead’
Mr Lawrence described as “disgusting” the way the Christian brothers challenged the amount of damages to which he was entitled.
“It turned out alright, I told the truth and that’s all really you can do,” he said.
“It’s all over now, I can just push it aside now and get on with my life, what life I’ve got left.”
Mr Magazanik lashed out at the Christian Brother’s attempts to try to minimise the payout, including the suggestion that the non-sexual abuse of Mr Lawrence at the orphanages had contributed to his problems.
“The salt in the wound defence is dead,” he said.
“The judge has dismissed their argument that all of the other abuse, the physical beatings, the violence, the emotional depravation, the emotional torture, the judge has said all of that pales into insignificance next to the sexual abuse.
“He’s categorised the violence as part and parcel of the sexual abuse.
“That’s an enormous step forward because what that means now is that survivors who were bashed as well as sexually abused don’t face the offensive argument, that ‘well we bashed you and beat you and we damaged you that way, so you really only deserve part of your compensation’.
“The Christian Brothers’ tactics in defending this claim were from our perspective offensive and the judge has dismissed them.”