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Sisters of Nazareth accused of impeding historic sex abuse investigation

Sisters of Nazareth accused of impeding historic sex abuse investigation

By Charlotte King
December 23, 2015
From the link: Sisters of Nazareth accused of impeding historic sex abuse investigation

A religious order in Melbourne has been accused of impeding an investigation into historic sex abuse at a former children’s home.

Barry Potocic, 54, has spent thirty years trying to identify the nun who he says used him as a sex toy at the age of eight, at Nazareth House in Camberwell.

He suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, as well as serious dental problems — the result of grinding his teeth during regular nightmares.

Mr Potocic is seeking compensation from the Sisters of Nazareth to get counselling and for dental work, but says the order is stalling his efforts.

The Sisters of Nazareth told the ABC they would be happy to provide historic photographs to an assessor as part of a Towards Healing investigation, which is the in-house method the Catholic Church uses to settle historic sex abuse claims.

The Sisters said there were a number of courses open to Mr Potocic to enable him to pursue his claim and there had been numerous instances where the Towards Healing investigation assisted complainants to identify the abuser.

But Mr Potocic said his case with Towards Healing was put on hold because he could not remember his abuser’s name.

He said he had made repeated attempts to get help from the Sisters to identify the perpetrator, but the inquiries led nowhere.

“They won’t produce any photos, they won’t produce any information for me, as far as the nun goes,” Mr Potocic said.

“I’ve asked a number of times for a meeting with them and nothing’s been eventuated.

“It’s a toss up between two names I have, and I don’t want to incriminate the wrong person.”

‘A tricky issue in litigation’

Melbourne lawyer Vivian Waller, who specialises in acting for sexual assault victims, said it was difficult to achieve compensation without identifying the perpetrator.

“It is a tricky issue in litigation, where the survivor’s unable to identify the offender with any clarity,” she said.

“If they’re able to say, it was definitely the man that was my grade three teacher, in 1972, we’re able to figure that out.”

She said some defendants have been more helpful than others in getting around this issue.

“Some defendants who are working a bit more cooperatively will say, ‘there were eight people working at this institution, would your clients like to see a photo board, are they able to identify from a photograph, we’ll provide you with a photograph if that will help’.”

The Sex Abuse Royal Commission recommended a $4 billion dollar redress scheme be set up for victims of childhood sex abuse.

Ms Waller said she was working with the Law Institute of Victoria to ensure that any scheme would require a lower burden of proof from victims, to make it easier to achieve compensation.

“Because if there is a statutory redress scheme set up, the object of that is to address some of these evidentiary hurdles,” Ms Waller said.

“As opposed to the evidentiary standard that might be required in a court of law, where it’s more likely that it’s going to be necessary to identify the person who’s alleged to have committed the harm,” she said.

‘I get flashbacks… it’s like watching a movie’

Mr Potocic lives in a small hamlet about 200 kilometres from Ballarat in western Victoria.

He shies away from most human contact, and keeps to himself to avoid the unnecessary psychological distress he experiences around others.

But when he goes to sleep at night, the 54-year-old said he can’t help reliving his childhood abuse.

“I get flashbacks on what was happening to me at that age. It’s like watching a movie; through the night, I wake up, I have to go and change [my] t-shirt because I’m sweating and me heart’s racing,” he said.

“It’s just like watching it all over again, watching what the nuns are doing to me, and how sexually pleasuring(sic) she’s getting.”

He also said his dental problems, caused by grinding his teeth during nightmares, are a major issue.

“My teeth have worn down that much that I can’t get in to see a dentist unless I’ve got thousands of dollars to pay for a dentist,” he said.

But having his day in court to win compensation has been a near impossibility.

“I knew what she was doing to me, and what she wanted me to do to her, but as far as remembering her name, that’s a big mystery for me.”