News, Culture & Society

Boy abused at Christian Brothers school in Geelong who began cross-dressing to sue for $2.5million

‘Mark’ was sexually abused for three years by paedophile teacher John Coogan at St Joseph’s College in Geelong. He is pictured aged 10 in fourth class

Mark was raised in a deeply religious Catholic family and his devout parents taught him to respect and obey all his hometown authority figures.

Trusting his elders helped feed Mark into the hands of notorious paedophile teacher John Coogan at St Joseph’s College in Geelong, a Christian Brothers campus south-west of Melbourne.

Day after day for three years Coogan forced Mark to sit on his lap in his locked office and molested him, violating the boy at least 100 times through primary school.

Mark’s response was to begin cross-dressing, late in fourth class, in the only way his young mind could find to comprehend the abuse. 

‘I justified it to myself as if I am a girl it is OK for a man to like me and touch me,’ he says in a victim impact statement written ahead of suing the religious order that ran the school. 

Mark is set to launch action in the Supreme Court of Victoria seeking compensation of more than $2.5million for the damage done to him by teachers including Coogan.

He has given Daily Mail Australia permission to publish pictures of him as a child and adult but is using Mark as a pseudonym.  

Mark's response to being molested was to begin cross-dressing. It was his way of trying to comprehend what was being done to him. 'I justified it to myself as, if I am a girl it is OK for a man to like me and touch me,' Mark says. He is pictured aged eight before the abuse started

Mark’s response to being molested was to begin cross-dressing. It was his way of trying to comprehend what was being done to him. ‘I justified it to myself as, if I am a girl it is OK for a man to like me and touch me,’ Mark says. He is pictured aged eight before the abuse started

John Patrick 'Jack' Coogan (above) was a physical education teacher and prolific paedophile who molested Geelong schoolboys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. He was convicted of 17 counts of indecent assault in 1994 and jailed for five years. He is now dead and not mourned

John Patrick ‘Jack’ Coogan (above) was a physical education teacher and prolific paedophile who molested Geelong schoolboys in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. He was convicted of 17 counts of indecent assault in 1994 and jailed for five years. He is now dead and not mourned

Now a father himself, Mark is taking the Christian Brothers to court 25 years after they paid him a paltry $25,000 for stealing his childhood.

Recent legal precedents set in Victoria allowing secondary victims of child abuse to claim redress for nervous shock might lead his mother and wife to also sue.

Mark is seeking compensation of more than $2.5million. He is pictured aged 12 after receiving his Confirmation certificate

Mark is seeking compensation of more than $2.5million. He is pictured aged 12 after receiving his Confirmation certificate

Mark is citing injury, loss and damage that continues to impact his life, along with reduced earnings and superannuation.

John Patrick ‘Jack’ Coogan was a physical education teacher and prolific paedophile who molested Geelong schoolboys in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

He was convicted of 17 counts of indecent assault in 1994 and jailed for five years.

Mark’s ordeal began in the late 1970s, the year after he was enrolled in third class at St Joseph’s, where most of his cousins went to school.

Coogan began grooming Mark in fourth class and the assaults lasted three years from age nine to 11. 

The sports coach would force the student to sit on his lap at lunchtime, put his hand down Mark’s pants and fondle his genitals.

Sometimes Coogan would hold Mark’s hand and use it to masturbate. Other times he would pleasure himself. 

Coogan did not unlock his office door until he had finished. Mark says there was always another boy outside Coogan’s office ready to come in.

He estimates he was molested in this way 40 times in both fourth and fifth class and 20 to 30 times in sixth.

‘As the abuse continued, I cross-dressed more often to hide from the world and what was happening to me,’ Mark’s victim impact statement says. 

‘I pinched some of my sister’s and mother’s clothes to wear. Once I left primary school, I remember it began to cease but every now and then there would be a trigger and I would do it again.’

Mark says he was assaulted – but not sexually – by other St Joseph’s teachers including Alan Edward Swingler after he reached high school.

[Swingler, a former Marist Brother who became a lay teacher of religious studies, was jailed for five years in 1995 for 14 offences including buggery, gross indecency and indecent assault of four boys]. 

Mark says he was assaulted by other St Joseph's teachers after he reached high school. The sexual abuse stopped in his last three years at school but Mark continued to suffer physical punishment. St Joseph's College is pictured

Mark says he was assaulted by other St Joseph’s teachers after he reached high school. The sexual abuse stopped in his last three years at school but Mark continued to suffer physical punishment. St Joseph’s College is pictured

The sexual abuse might have stopped in his last three years at St Joseph’s but Mark continued to suffer physical punishment as he rebelled against the institution.

He had confided in a cousin during the early days of Coogan’s molestations but that conversation only reinforced threats the teacher made that no one would believe his word.

‘I tried on a couple more occasions for his support and it wasn’t forthcoming,’ Mark says of his cousin. ‘After these incidents I began the cycle of self-doubt and belief that I had deserved this, and it was my fault.’ 

The next time Mark spoke to anyone about what had happened was when he ‘semi-confided’ to a girl he was dating in 1986.

‘I did not divulge all the incidents or level of abuse but enough to drag up the nightmares again,’ he says. 

‘After this I tried to forget it had ever happened and forget totally my time at St Josephs. I cut off all friends I had from that time and began a cycle of self-destruction.’

John Coogan would force Mark to sit on his lap, put his hand down the boy's pants and fondle his genitals. He did not unlock his office door until he had finished. Sometimes Coogan (above) would hold Mark's hand and use it to masturbate. Other times he would pleasure himself

John Coogan would force Mark to sit on his lap, put his hand down the boy’s pants and fondle his genitals. He did not unlock his office door until he had finished. Sometimes Coogan (above) would hold Mark’s hand and use it to masturbate. Other times he would pleasure himself

Mark was arrested in 1987 and charged with multiple juvenile offences. He had dreamed of joining Victoria Police to serve and protect the community but his application was later denied because of that criminal record.

A series of stories about sexual abuse at St Joseph’s which appeared in the Geelong Advertiser in the late 1980s brought up bad memories and caused further distress.

‘For years I had put up walls hiding what had happened and each time the stories ran I would have to relive what I had seen and felt,’ he says. 

Mark would visualise the two-storey primary school building and picture himself walking past the canteen and through Coogan’s office door near the boys’ changerooms.

By the early 1990s Mark had begun seeing a psychologist and was being treated for depression. He would regularly break down and cry uncontrollably, suffered wild mood swings and lashed out at anyone in his presence.

‘It was also during this time I was smoking a lot of cannabis and hashish as well as drinking heavily,’ he says. ‘It was nothing to drink a 750ml bottle of scotch and then go out for the night to continue drinking.’

Mark was arrested in 1987 and charged with multiple juvenile offences. He had dreamed of joining Victoria Police to serve and protect the community but his application was later denied because of that criminal record. Mark is pictured aged 15

Mark was arrested in 1987 and charged with multiple juvenile offences. He had dreamed of joining Victoria Police to serve and protect the community but his application was later denied because of that criminal record. Mark is pictured aged 15

Mark’s cross-dressing, which had re-emerged when he told his girlfriend some of what had happened, continued until 1993 when he made a statement about Coogan to police.

‘The with the stress of opening the Pandora’s box and having to detail the abuse and times I sought comfort in hiding from myself,’ he says.

John Coogan was a sports coach as well as physical education teacher at St Joseph's

John Coogan was a sports coach as well as physical education teacher at St Joseph’s

During a period in the armed forces the cross-dressing declined as Mark felt he had escaped his demons, and was no longer living in the environment where the abuse occurred. 

‘However, over the past 20 years as more cases against the Catholic Church have been detailed through the media, I find I have fallen back into the cycle again,’ he says.

These days Mark, who lives in Sydney, has a supportive wife who knows he was abused – but not all the details – and who understands his cross-dressing.

‘I find every time a new article appears about the systematic abuse through the Catholic Church especially, I go back into my shell and hide from the world for a while,’ the 52-year-old says. 

‘My family know there is something wrong as I become very short with them and they will keep their distance until I return to “normal”.’

Since Mark first went to police other St Joseph’s teachers including several Christian Brothers have been prosecuted and imprisoned. John Coogan is dead.

‘As an adult in the work force I regularly hold my tongue when discussions of what happened in the catholic system come up,’ he says. ‘I do not need to tell my work colleagues what I have been through. I do not want the questions or judgement.’ 

Mark, who learnt Coogan rostered the times his victims came to his office and always kept them separate, feels misplaced guilt he did not speak up earlier about the abuse. He is pictured at the Three Sisters in the New South Wales Blue Mountains aged 25

Mark, who learnt Coogan rostered the times his victims came to his office and always kept them separate, feels misplaced guilt he did not speak up earlier about the abuse. He is pictured at the Three Sisters in the New South Wales Blue Mountains aged 25

Mark, who learnt Coogan rostered the times his victims came to his office and always kept them separate, feels misplaced guilt he did not speak up earlier about the abuse. 

‘I wish I had said something to another teacher, adult or school leader when it first happened, so I was free from his grasp,’ he says. ‘The guilt that others may have suffered because I didn’t come forward early hurts more.’        

Mark expects to lodge his statement of claim against the Christian Brothers in February to be heard before a judge alone if the matter cannot be settled before then. 

‘The matter is before the courts and out of respect for that process, the Christian Brothers are unable to comment publicly at this time,’ a spokesman for the Christian Brothers Oceania Province said.    

How an abuse survivor’s $25,000 payout could now hit $2.8million 

Mark has been assisted in his pursuit for compensation for the past three years by child sexual assault survivors’ champion Michael Advocate.

Mr Advocate, who is a victim of abuse and uses a pseudonym at the request of his children, says Mark will be seeking more than $2.5million in damages.

Mark was originally given a token $25,000 settlement in 1997 for the abuse he suffered at St Joseph’s College in Geelong at the hands of paedophile teacher John Coogan. 

‘It’s just appalling how little victims were compensated in the past, due to their weak legal position,’ Mr Advocate says. 

‘Thankfully, with two recent Victorian court decisions, victims can now reapply to get their compensation fairly reassessed. 

‘So $25,000 compensated in 1997 is now likely to be worth $2million to $2.8million.’

Mark’s mother and wife are also considering suing the Christian Brothers for nervous shock they have suffered, a move possible after a Victorian legal precedent. 

‘With justice now being accessible to the families of child sexual abuse victims, the long wait for compensation for those impacted has finally arrived,’ Mr Advocate says.

Earlier this month another former St Joseph’s student who was abused by Coogan on 20 to 30 occasions in 1978 when he was 13 was awarded a $1.2million settlement.

In the 1990s the same claimant had received just $17,000 from the Christian Brothers.  

In June, the Victorian Supreme Court awarded a victim $1.94million on top of $139,000 he had previously received in the case of O’Connor v Comensoli.

‘Now, every victim who previously settled with any institutions is a very strong position to get proper, meaningful compensation,’ Mr Advocate says.

Mr Advocate founded Victim Justice in 2015 to help guide fellow victims through the legal system.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk