‘It caused his death’

— Man abused in care at Marylands School dies before justice served

Marylands School

By Amy Williams

A woman whose disabled brother contracted a fatal disease as a result of horrific child sexual abuse at a religious boarding school is angry he died before justice could be served.

Over three decades, more than 530 boys went through Marylands School in Christchurch and more than one in five reported abuse while in its care.

The residential facility for boys – many with disabilities, learning or behavioural needs – was run by the Catholic order Brothers of St John of God.

Many survivors gave witness statements to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care – the lengthy report will be made public later this month

Rebecca’s* brother had an intellectual disability and was sent to live at Marylands School as a seven-year-old – one of many siblings in a large Catholic family.

A priest had advised her mother it would be a safe place for him to live and learn but nothing could have been further from the truth.

“It was hyped up, this is an amazing school and an amazing order of brothers, they’re all trained to help children with intellectual and physical disability,” Rebecca said of the school.

“They were an order of brothers that we didn’t have in New Zealand apart from down in Marylands so it was very new to us. He was singled out in that he fitted the criteria that he was special needs.”

But her brother remained illiterate and would often return home for the school holidays with no packed clothing, rotten teeth and poor hygiene.

A year younger than her brother, Rebecca was a child at the time – it was only later, as an adult, she learned he had been repeatedly raped.

“I was just bloody furious because he had no choice. The damage that it did to him physically, little boys of seven or eight can’t say no, they don’t know what’s going on and they had this violation.”

Marylands was a den of abuse – of the 37 brothers who ministered in Christchurch, 21 had allegations made against them – with 19 specifically accused of child sexual abuse.

Rebecca’s brother came home for good as an 18-year-old, when her mother realised despite paying fees for his education, he had been put to work in the laundry and still could not read or write – they did not then know, he had been abused.

He eventually lived in a community home for people with disabilities where he worked as a stablehand.

“He was a lovely boy and in later years he had the best sense of humour,” she said.

Rebecca was among witnesses to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care – her brother died in 2022 before the hearing she spoke at took place.

He was 65 years old and had rectal cancer caused by HPV.

“It caused his death. By the time I got to stand up at the Royal Commission he had died and they said this is a result of what happened to him.”

Rebecca said she was angry her brother never saw justice for his suffering – he had also been labelled a sexual deviant for the behaviours he learned from the abuse.

He experienced terrible physical pain but she said he never talked about it.

“We never thought ‘Oh my God he might get HPV’, you just didn’t think that and that’s exactly what happened. He had a colostomy, he never really coped very well with it, his bum was basically rotting away.”

She said the report out this month was likely to be hard to read but people must take notice.

“Just because it’s not your institution or it’s not your place the public can’t sit back and say it’s nothing to do with me. You’ve got to listen and you’ve got to follow it up.”

Rebecca said she was concerned planned boot camps for youth offenders would cause more damage to those who need to know they are valued.

“I’m so concerned that we haven’t learnt our lesson. Boot camp and charter schools will not work.”

She said she and her siblings carried guilt about what happened to their brother – even though they were children and young teens at the time he was in care.

They remember finding it hard to adjust when their brother returned home for school holidays – a heavy burden carried by many families whose loved ones were abused in care.

“As soon as he came home he just lost it for about a week then he calmed down and was really sweet and nice,” she said.

“Then about two days before he was due to go back he would just be hysterical. And of course, all we [said] was ‘Oh God, can’t wait for him to go back’.”

Almost 3000 survivors registered with the Royal Commission, but it was estimated more than quarter of a million people may have suffered abuse at the hands of the state and faith-based institutions between 1950 and 2019.

* Name changed

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