When Adam was eight years old, his welfare file described him as ‘a delightful boy with an insatiable desire for fantasy and play’. At nine the file says he has ‘difficulty with personal hygiene and difficulty with authority’. By ten he was listed as ‘seriously troubled’.
‘Within a three-year period of me arriving there, I’ve gone from a delightful little boy … to what I saw on the page was “a freaking little monster”.’
Orphaned in the mid-1970s, Adam was placed in a children’s home in Queensland, run by the Sisters of Mercy. ‘It was … there that I experienced sexual contact between adults and children.’ At night men came into the dormitory and engaged in touching and mutual masturbation with the boys, but on any given night there would only be one man at a time present.
‘The men were Christian Brothers and priests … They would leave us gifts, chocolates and lollies, as well as sometimes little toys … cigarettes … like they were our friends and this was our play. It seemed like some of them really did love us … We would look forward to seeing them … compete for their attention …
‘It was clear that it was all hush hush, like the sex linked with the smoking … like a bunch of naughty kids … They were breaking the rules, just like us … We weren’t afraid of them at all. It was like we were part of a club, a special club, where if the boring adults find out, all our fun would be ruined for everyone.’
Adam said, ‘I feel bad to say this, but I really … adored the idea of a man looking deeply into my eyes, cuddling me, touching my hair and telling me that I was special. I really craved love in a world where there was no touch and no cuddles’.
When Adam was nine, he was told that he was going on holidays with a nice family. The first night they were playing pool and the foster father, Derek, stood Adam on the pool table and had oral sex with him. ‘This seemed pretty normal to me … He told me I couldn’t tell anyone. I knew the drill … I thought that this was normal and that actually this was how dads and sons interacted.’
On a second visit, Derek again sexually abused Adam on the pool table. ‘I was afraid. He was masturbating himself and had my penis in his mouth … His wife walked [in] with a tray of food … dropped the tray and … ran out of the room … We had dinner in complete silence … We drove home in complete silence.’
Back at the orphanage, Derek ‘spoke to [the nuns] at length and they kept me in the convent for a full day. They prayed over me and gave me chocolates and ice cream … They said it should never be discussed with anyone, or everyone would get in big trouble’.
On a third visit, the wife was not there. Derek ‘removed all of my clothes as well as all of his. He insisted on kissing me on the mouth and face, and I found this disgusting and refused … I think this angered him … He was being rough with me and at one point put his finger in my anus …’ When Adam vomited, Derek drove him back to the orphanage. He was angry, but Adam didn’t understand why.
The next morning Adam told the nuns that he didn’t want to go back to Derek’s place, but six months later he was told that he was going on holiday again. The nuns threatened that if he didn’t go, they would send him to a boys’ home and he would never get fostered.
When he picked Adam up from the orphanage, Derek wouldn’t touch or speak to him. Just before dark, he took Adam to a park and led him into the public toilets.
Two men in the toilet block violently raped Adam and only stopped when ‘I vomited … and emptied my bowels on the floor … My body went soft and I felt like I was floating. I had no sense of smell and so I decided that I had died’. When Derek drove around for hours after the rape, Adam ‘supposed at the time he was looking for a place to dispose of my body’.
Adam was surprised to be dropped back at the convent, where he was put in a bath, still covered in vomit, faeces and blood. Whoever was washing him was crying and ‘at one point they said “sorry” to me. That was a big deal’.
The doctor who treated Adam’s wounds didn’t ask what had happened. ‘I would have told him if he had’ve asked. I was angry at those two men. I had a lot of pain sitting down. I was given medication and slept for a few days. I told the nuns … They just whispered to me, “You’re safe now … Put it all behind you because God kept you safe”.’
Adam said, ‘I believe that it was accepted that sometimes prospective foster parents would … commit sexual offences against children, and that the nuns either thought that this was an unfortunate complication … or … foster parents with lots of cash could do a better job than they were doing, and the occasional sexual assaults on children was undesirable, but acceptable.’
The sexual abuse that Adam experienced has had a significant impact on his life. ‘At about the age of maybe 30, I started having major panic attacks. I’ve been afraid of the dark my whole life and I’m freakishly terrified of being alone … I started having this thing where my heart rate would go up to 240 beats per minute.’ After his eighth hospitalisation, Adam was told that he’d had a major breakdown.
‘So, I have a mental problem … manifested in physical form. I think my heart was broken and it was about this idea of getting parents … and I still want parents … All of my friends have got parents … and they don’t talk to them and you know, I … imagine if I had a mother, I’d go and see her once a week … sit out in the garden, and do stuff like that.’
Adam’s psychologist diagnosed him with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended that he engage in a regime of mindfulness training, which he has found to be beneficial.
Adam tried three times during his 20s to report the sexual abuse to police. ‘I have this constant storm in my chest. On the whole planet, I mean, you can’t … stop people in the street and tell them that kind of stuff … but I need the emotional support …
‘So there’s no one. There’s no door. There’s only one door in Australia that I’m aware of and that’s the Child Sexual Assault Service … That was the only place that I thought of. That’s the reason I went back.’
The detective he spoke to the first time believed Adam, but advised him to forget about taking legal action because, ‘Your mind will be destroyed by this experience. You’re already a mess’. She told him that he would be up against highly-paid barristers who would tear him apart in court.
Despite the detective’s warning he tried twice more to report the abuse, but always got the same response.
Adam applied to a state redress scheme, and in verbal communications was offered $80,000. When the paperwork arrived, the offer had been reduced to $40,000. Eventually, Adam signed a deed of release which had no figure mentioned, and he received only $28,000.
‘I would like to give that money back … I would like them to say that I can speak about what happened with the Catholic Church. I can speak about Derek … I can speak about the Christian Brothers … I don’t like being told that this is the only room in Australia where I’m allowed to tell what is such a fundamental part of who I am …
‘I think that, as bad as what happened to me with Derek … that being fucked over by the state is as bad an experience, because these are the parents you know … the foster parents and who’s the ultimate parent … Every time the government changes hands, I feel like I get a new dad, because ultimately, the top of that pyramid, there’s my father.’
Adam told the Commissioner, ‘I would have walked across traffic to get here … It is difficult, but … right now, I feel different to when I walked into the room … I’m more recovered and even now, it makes more sense, because I really have to underline this and say it in capital letters: “THIS IS THE FIRST RATIONAL FORUM THAT I’VE BEEN INVOLVED IN”.