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Albie Tom's story

Albie spends 20 minutes every morning, before his cell door opens, preparing himself to be around other people. After years of sustained sexual abuse from various individuals, he finds it hard to be around them. Albie also had to prepare himself for his meeting with the Commissioner. ‘I haven’t slept all night. I’ve been meditating … pre-emptive of this.’

Albie was born in Victoria but moved to Western Australia with his parents, who were members of an evangelical Christian motor bike club. A birthday party for five-year-old Albie and his sibling, organised by the Christian bikies, led to a neighbour jumping to conclusions and ringing the police. The potent mix of bikies and Albie’s half Aboriginal status led to Welfare removing both children. They were placed in a temporary foster home.

Albie remembers bits and pieces of that first week, especially various people coming and going. ‘Me and my brother were repeatedly drugged and abused that entire week. That was the first week they removed us … It was almost like we were brand new sex toys.’

His dad found out where they were and came to get them. The police were called. They wrestled with Albie’s dad, then dragged Albie and his brother out from under the bed and back into custody.

Albie was made a ward of the state and placed in different foster homes. He rattled off a list of the children’s homes he was also sent to. Albie was sexually abused from the age of five to 16.

He told the Commissioner that one man in particular, John Singer, was part of a paedophile ring of high-ranking officials. Albie was officially fostered for only a short time with Singer but stayed with him ‘on and off’ for years. Singer raped him and forced him to have oral sex many times. ‘He always made it to be as an obligation. Like, he was providing care and food and a place to stay’, so Albie had to be grateful.

Years later, Albie read some of the notes in his case file when he was appealing a decision made by Redress WA. A welfare worker had written that Albie, as a prostitute, had booked into a hotel with three adult homosexuals when he was 12.

‘It was seen as a wilful act on my part to engage in homosexual behaviour, and not seen as abuse.’

But being coerced into prostitution was very much part of Singer’s abuse, Albie said. A file note from another welfare worker said she felt bad for John Singer because Albie was manipulative and controlling. ‘I was 10 years old at the time.’

In his early teens Albie started committing robberies to get the money for his new heroin habit. At 17 he went into adult prison. In the 20 years since then, Albie has only been out of prison for a handful of months. He reached the point where he committed crime because in prison he feels ‘safer, more content, more calm. Unfortunately, it’s my natural environment’.

He suffers from acute anxiety and said it would now take ‘an act of god’ to keep him out of institutions.

Albie’s been taking anti-psychotic drugs off and on for years for severe post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘That will never go away. I … relive events. I just remember them. I actually relive them. At its worst I actually sometimes show physical symptoms … My bruising and stuff comes from old memories … they manifest from … old trauma and old abuses.’

When he’s overwhelmed he goes into auto pilot. ‘I don’t actually come to my senses till I’m in handcuffs … And go “okay” and breathe a sigh of relief that the trauma’s over. But every single time I come up for release I feel that same anxiety. And the system’s response to that is to give me a bag of clothing, a couple of thousand dollars … and put me in the middle of the city where I’m surrounded by drug addicts and dealers.’

As for counsellors, ‘there’s good people within the system’ but they don’t have enough power to meet people’s needs.

Recently Albie’s been going to Narcotics Anonymous and, apart from his medication, is now drug-free.

He didn’t report the sexual abuse until he took part in the redress scheme. As a result two people, including John Singer, are being prosecuted. Other men have also given witness statements.

In terms of financial compensation, the only thing Albie would hope to get is what a normal life would have given him.

‘If I wasn’t taken away at five years old and put through this abuse, what would I have been able to achieve at this age? … I will never be able to hold down a proper job. I will never be able to live normally within a society … That was what was taken away from me.’

Albie recommended that older offenders, ‘past their use-by date’ and with a high recidivism rate, should be used to help stop the cycle. ‘Give ’em a place to stay, get ’em support, get ’em stable. Give them a job talking to the young offenders and let them know that there’s better options. And giving them the support so they don’t take our beds.’

Albie told the Commissioner, ‘It’s awesome that this process is available but there still needs to be practical applications to this, that actually have changeable and long-lasting effect for those who’ve been institutionalised and unable – and will be unable – to live a normal life. Ever again’.

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