Former students sexually abused by a paedophile teacher are outraged after the Jesuit order inadvertently named some of his victims on their website.
Former students sexually abused by a paedophile teacher are outraged after the Jesuit order inadvertently named some of his victims on their website.

Abuse victims named online in shocking bungle

In an astonishing bungle, the names of former students who were sexually abused by disgraced paedophile Jesuit brother Victor Higgs have been published online.

The damaging error occurred when an attachment was left on an official report into the Jesuit Order's handling of Higgs' shocking conduct at St Ignatius' College at Athlestone and Riverview College in Sydney when it was publicly released 10 days ago.

The Jesuit Order now faces the risk of prosecution by authorities for breaching provisions of the Evidence Act relating to identifying victims of sexual assault.

A number of Higgs' victims were last Friday notified of the stunning blunder, with several telling The Advertiser they have been devastated by the actions of the order.

Abuse survivor "Michael'' said he was both "dumbfounded and gutted'' that his identity had been exposed.

"For most of my life I have lived with the shame of what Higgs did to me and now I have to live with the shame of the world knowing," he said.

"It is breathtaking, it has taken me back completely. How could they be so incompetent or just so careless with such sensitive information. They are beyond contempt.

"We are vulnerable, this is disgusting. If people want to find out about me they can, even the case numbers are up there, it's all there, I am reliving the whole thing again.''

Michael said he had already engaged a barrister and was pursuing the disclosure with authorities over the breach of legislation.

The 24-page attachment, entitled "working chronology and summary of people'' contains extensive and precise detail on Higgs' handling by the Jesuit Order after it learned of his activities.

It names 21 individuals labelled as "survivors'' who attended St Ignatius at Athelstone and Riverview in Sydney.

While the SA survivors are given pseudonyms, others are given their correct names.

The document also provides initials for more survivors the inquiry attempted to engage via law firm Minter Ellison to assist its work.

A letter of apology sent to the abuse survivors by the Order states the attachment was removed from its website "when we were made aware of this on the same day".

"I am acutely aware of the gravity of this and can only express our deepest apology for the mistake," director of professional standards Simon Davies stated in the apology letter.

" … I reiterate our remorse for this failing. I am, as always, available to speak with you."

The letter states the order became aware a person had copied the document and placed it on a website, but this has now been removed.

"It does not appear to have been shared further,'' the letter states.

However, it appears details are still available online. Reference to it and excerpts are also available when abuse survivors search their own name online.

Michael said he was aware of "another three or four'' survivors' names who were also available online through searches.

Victor Higgs outside court during an earlier appearance. Picture: 7 News
Victor Higgs outside court during an earlier appearance. Picture: 7 News

"They can be found because of the algorithms used in the searches. It is there forever,'' he said.

Another abuse survivor said he was "absolutely dumbfounded that such an error could be made considering the calibre of those who conducted the inquiry.''

"The incompetency is breathtaking and beyond belief," David, a St Ignatius survivor given a pseudonym in the attachment, said.

"For an organisation which prides itself on producing the top legal minds in South Australia, if not Australia, to actually have something like this happen beggars belief. They deserve to compensate those people who have been cruelly treated, not just for what has happened, but for this that has added salt to those wounds.

"The law was crafted specifically to protect victims of child abuse and victims of sexual abuse.

"To post this is appalling behaviour and the relevant authorities should take action against those responsible. If they can't pin down an individual, they should be fining the organisation to send a lesson the people otherwise other victims will be hesitant about coming forward.

"This is the very reason I waited to come forward because I didn't want my family, my community to know what had happened to me. You do not want your name out there and people saying 'there he goes, that's what happened to him'."

The report into Victor Higgs was launched after The Advertiser revealed the Jesuit Order covered up Higgs' offending at Athelstone in 1970 and detailed the abuse of several students.

At the time, the Jesuit Order said it had no record of any complaints about Higgs' and stated there was "nothing unusual'' about his move from St Ignatius to Riverview - despite the detailed information uncovered by The Advertiser.

The inquiry, conducted by former Victorian Chief Justice Marilyn Warren QC, found the order shifted Higgs from St Ignatius' College to Riverview College in Sydney when Higgs's offending was discovered.

The inquiry's bombshell findings confirmed that Higgs was moved - rather than reported to SA Police - where he sexually abused many more boys.

Ms Warren found "at least'' three complaints were made to the then-Rector at St Ignatius, Fr Frank Wallace SJ, regarding Higgs' illegal conduct at Athelstone.

Ms Warren also found "the substance of at least some of these complaints'' was conveyed to the then-head of the Jesuits in Australia, Fr Francis Peter Kelly SJ, prior to Higgs' move to Riverview.

Higgs, 81, was convicted in SA in 2016 of abusing boys at St Ignatius in 1970 and served 12 months jail. In November 2018 he was convicted of 16 charges of abusing boys at Riverview between 1972-1980 and is serving 12 years jail.

A spokesperson for the Jesuit Order reiterated the apology to the survivors.

"We are deeply sorry for the inadvertent disclosure,'' the spokesperson said.

"We have written to those impacted, apologising and explaining the steps we took to remedy it. We have also offered to talk to them should they wish to reach out to us.''

*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.

 


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