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Aaron Travis's story

‘As a young kid, my grandmother grew me up really, ’cause my mum couldn’t … I was doing everything good with Nan, you know, but when Nan passed away that’s when me life just turned upside down.’

Aaron’s grandmother died when he was 10, and it wasn’t long before he started getting into trouble. He was moved between different kinship placements, but kept running away, trying to return home to his mother.

‘I was 11, 12 years old when I first went to juvie … break and enter, and stealing a car … part of a group of boys … all around the same age.’

Aaron spent time in three juvenile detention centres in Queensland in the late 1990s, and was physically and sexually abused in all of them. Officer Barton ‘used to touch us inappropriately, you know, for cigarettes and that’. Barton performed oral sex on Aaron, and fondled his genitals. Then he made Aaron do the same to him.

Officers Barton and Fraser often sexually abused inmates together when they were on night shift. They took boys down to a dark, unused cell and forced them to perform sexual acts on each other. Fraser also digitally penetrated Aaron in this cell. When Aaron was sent to the same detention centre a second time, the abuse by both officers became worse.

When Aaron was sent to another juvenile detention centre, he was also subjected to the same type of sexual abuse by an officer, who went into the boys’ rooms at night and ‘made them do shit’. The officer was often drunk when he came on duty, and he would ‘make me suck him off and shit’.

At a third detention centre, the visiting doctor fondled Aaron’s genitals during monthly check-ups. ‘He’d mainly look at my private parts ... He’d do it every check-up … He’d touch me and fondle me and stuff.’

Aaron told the Commissioner, ‘I tried to report what happened to me to senior officers and counsellors, but no one was interested in my cry and complaints for help … I lost faith in adults and authorities’. He felt he couldn’t tell his family about the abuse because ‘they would think I’m gay, and my dad hated gay people’.

Once Aaron was released from juvenile detention, his drug use escalated. ‘I started to inject speed to escape the pain, shame and embarrassment … I was in pain, a lot of pain. I only ever felt good when I was on drugs. I constantly sought refuge from the evil pain of my past in the form of speed … I kept re-offending to pay for my drug habit … I would get out of jail and be back in within weeks or months.’

Aaron is in his mid-30s and has been in jail for half his life. During his time inside he’s become alienated from his Aboriginal culture. ‘I became distant from my family, community and culture. I came to believe they would reject me and be ashamed of me.

‘I was once a proud man. I’m now a broken man who lost my identity … I lost contact with my culture. I was once a talented artist. I lost my creativity. My inspiration to express my art had abandoned me. I was over-ridden with pain and sorrow. I avoided culture events and gatherings. I stopped my art, dancing, playing music.’

After many years of confusion over his sexual identity, Aaron now has a loving partner and young child. His partner was the first person Aaron told about the sexual abuse and she was shocked, but very supportive. When he is released from jail this time, he wants to stay out.

‘Looking back, my identity was stolen from me. Those evil men prevented the course of my innocence. I know I have to control my past in order to move on and have closure … I’m now trying to find myself. I am trying to embrace my culture. I’m back doing my art and starting to open up about what happened to me.’

Aaron is worried that his teenage sons are heading down the same path as he did. ‘[I] just don’t want the same thing happening to them when they go to them places.’

Aaron encouraged those who run the type of institution he was in, ‘Don’t treat us like shit. Just treat us like any other human beings … Those little kids, you know … talk to ’em and that. Don’t smack us around the head and that … and say, “Oh, you’re only worth nothing. You’re worthless”’.

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