Seven students are suing Warrnambool's former Christian Brothers College over alleged horrific physical and sexual abuse.
Individual writs for each of the seven have been lodged in the Supreme Court, outlining a range of alleged abuse, including rapes, dating back to the 1970s and early 1980s.
It's the first time Warrnambool's CBC has been the respondent in such a large number of writs and if successful the total payouts are expected to be several millions of dollars.
Lawyers Arnold Thomas and Becker issued the Supreme Court proceedings against trustees of the Christian Brothers. Warrnambool's CBC and St Ann's College merged in 1991 to create Emmanuel College.
Lawyer Nicole Elliott-Struth said the complainants, who were all children at the time, were allegedly physically and sexually abused by Christian Brothers and Sisters, priests, teachers and a caretaker at the school over a period of several years.
"At the hands of the people they were supposed to trust, these vulnerable young people were allegedly subjected to shocking physical and sexual abuse at a place of learning," she said.
"Our clients, and many other young people, have suffered life-long traumas as a result of several failures by the Christian Brothers Institution to protect children."
The court writs outline claims against priests, Brothers, Sisters, teachers and caretakers, some of which have already been proven in court. They include:
- A victim being kissed on the lips by a Brother,
- Allegations a Brother masturbated in full view of students,
- A victim being shown pornographic material,
- Alleged touching and fondling of students by Brothers,
- Allegations Brothers forced students to get changed in front of them while other Brothers were masturbating,
- Allegations of Brothers strapping, spitting and inflicting other physical abuse.
One complainant said he had come forward so the community knew what went on at Warrnambool's Christian Brothers College.
"They did the wrong thing and people have suffered life-long effects. It's not OK," he said.
"The abuse had a profound effect on my life, sending my life into a different direction. It has affected my ongoing mental health, my ability to maintain stable relationships and a stable income.
"They (CBC) turned a blind eye to this behaviour and shuffled brothers from school to school, instead of putting a stop to the behaviour.
"I want the Christian Brothers to know that they have let me and so many others down. Their behaviour was hypocritical to their teaching and Christianity.
"I have read about it my whole life. I heard about people coming out and decided it was time. I hope to empower others to come forward.
"My message to other victims is - come forward, don't hesitate, there is no shame," he said.
Christian Brothers Oceania Province said it did not comment publicly on details of any allegation which was before the courts.
"More broadly, the Christian Brothers reiterate our longstanding message urging any person who has experienced abuse in any of our facilities to come forward at the time of their own choosing through one of the pathways available to them," a statement from Christian Brothers Oceania Province said.
It said options included contacting its Office of Professional Standards on 03 8359 0136, through the National Redress Scheme on 1800 737 377 or through independent legal representation.
"The Christian Brothers cooperated fully with the Royal Commission which undertook exhaustive work into the failure of institutions that enabled the unacceptable abuse of some children by both religious and lay staff, and the further failure that such abuse was not properly responded to," the statement said.
"We reiterate our enduring and unreserved apology to those who have been harmed as a result."
Ms Elliott-Struth said it was claimed CBC leadership knew children were at risk of being abused due to historic complaints against brothers starting as early as the 1920s.
"There was a failure to act on knowledge of widespread sexual abuse at institutions run by the Christian Brothers, and to put in place systems and policies within the school to enable the notification and prevention of sexual and physical abuse," she said.
"Our clients endured severe sexual, physical and psychologist abuse throughout their formative years at Christian Brothers College that had a profound impact on them for the rest of their lives."
The lawyers said the complainants suffered from issues including shame, anxiety, lack of self-esteem, drug dependency, inability to form proper relationships, PTSD, depression, pain and suffering, among a range of issues.
"The ongoing sexual and physical abuse by some of the Brothers occurred under the guise of supervision and care towards the boys," she said.
"They were an abuse of their power and authority.
"Because of this relationship, being one of trust and reliance, the boys were subjected to psychological and disciplinary disadvantage in defending themselves or reporting the abuse."
Ms Elliott-Struth said the lawyers were suing for damages in separate legal actions, arguing the Christian Brothers' leadership failed to look after and protect the children in their care.
Ms Elliott-Struth said said her company represented more than 700 abuse victims across Australia.
She said as awareness of institutional abuse grew and more people spoke out, it gave others the confidence to come forward.
"We are alarmed at how many people are coming forward with historic abuse claims, but also shocked to hear of how many have entered the Government Redress Scheme and have accepted grossly unfair and low payments," she said.
"We continue to do all we can to educate survivors of what they are entitled to.
"It is inconceivable that the government is encouraging victims to pursue redress as currently Australia's Redress Scheme offers a cap of $150,000 to individual victims, while civil litigation with the support of a specialist abuse lawyer can provide millions of dollars in compensation to the individual.
"Anyone who accepts an incredibly low and unfair redress payment forever loses the one chance they have to receive fair and proper compensation - this is why we urge victims to speak to an experienced abuse lawyer."
Ms Elliott-Struth said AT&B was currently pursuing claims for dozens of victims of abuse in Surf Coast-based institutions, including the Department of Human Services, a number of schools and an orphanage.
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