Alf Terry's story

‘I don’t have kids … I’ve got too much bad stuff and not enough good stuff … But people say “How come you don’t have kids, you’re so great with kids” … It’s because I know what it’s like, I know what the kids would want … what makes them a better person … a happier person.’

Alf was extensively sexually abused when he was in the care of the Victorian State Government as a child in the 1960s. He submitted a lengthy document to the Royal Commission, detailing his abuse, which had taken him many hours to write.

‘[Writing’s] how I do it … I feel much better if I write it rather than actually speak it … I think if I was going to recommend anything [to the Commission] I’d ask if you can find a method or methods in order for these people [other survivors] to purge it, purge it out of their system … I think I’m a better person for writing it.’

Alf’s early childhood years had been physically and emotionally abusive but it wasn’t until he was placed in a foster home as an 11 year old that he first experienced sexual abuse. The biological son of the foster parents was given the responsibility of disciplining the foster children and, as well as beating Alf, the son forced him into sex acts and violated him.

Not long after, when Alf returned to his mother’s care, he was raped by an ‘an old man’ who ran the local Presbyterian Church’s ‘kids’ club’. In his written submission, Alf explained how he had tried to report this to the police.

‘[The man] must have done the same or similar things to other boys in the neighbourhood as well because one day a number of us saw him and called him names … As this was going on a police car stopped and we were asked by the police what we were doing. We told the police officers that he had touched our private parts and made us touch his but they weren’t interested and just drove off.’

Alf’s behaviour deteriorated and he committed a crime that brought him to the attention of police. He was sentenced to juvenile detention. Alf was small for his age and, in hindsight, realises that his ‘extreme vulnerability’ made him an easy target for sexual predators. In the detention centre Alf was repeatedly sexually abused by a staff member.

‘He ordered me not to tell any of the other inmates or he would hurt me. I decided to keep my mouth shut … I didn’t say anything to any other inmate, which turned out to be quite easy for me because I was too embarrassed, disgusted and ashamed to share with other inmates what had occurred.’

Over the next years, Alf was sent to two different detention centres and a youth hostel and was sexually abused in all three institutions.

‘It’s extremely emotionally draining … to precisely recall every specific detail of these traumatic events, and, quite frankly, I don’t want to. In addition, I still have problems with my bowels, where I frequently suffer from constipation, diarrhoea and haemorrhoids and have done so, year in year, out for decades …

‘After the first sexual assault I never felt safe, stable or secure … instead, feelings of fear, intimidation, shame, and revulsion completely overwhelmed me.’

At various stages, Alf did report his abuse to staff but was never believed and frequently viciously beaten by staff or the other boys as punishment for speaking up.

‘I was in utter misery and despair. Understandably, this sat quite comfortably with my self-loathing, self-hatred, self-pity, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence, which, despite the passing of decades … still possess me, they have never left, and, disappointingly, they continue to remain part of my psyche.’

As an adult, Alf has been to prison a ‘couple of times’ but he worked hard to make a different life for himself.

‘I just had a couple of lucky breaks, I suppose. I was with my partner for over 10 years and she helped me get through uni … I [had] counted myself as illiterate … That’s what can happen.’

Alf completed a degree and began his working life in a profession that supports children in their education. He experiences depression almost constantly and has large gaps in his memories, produced, he thinks, because of trauma and anxiety.

‘One thing that quite disturbs me is the lack of information in my ward file … I can’t remember, for the life of me, the people’s names … I don’t know all the things that were done to me … Was I a bad seed to begin with? … I’m close to … topping myself … all the time … Depressed? Very much so … I think I’d describe it as a shadow and it’s always present. This effect on you is [always there].’

He takes heart from the knowledge that children, parents and society generally are much more aware of the possibility of sexual abuse now, than they were when he was young. Alf also believes that the internet and social media allows children a safety net.

‘If something bad happens [now] the word would get around. We didn’t have a support network – we didn’t even have the means to communicate. So, now, if something bad happens I think today’s kids have got [resources] … I don’t think there’s been a better opportunity for the kids to be safe in schools than [today].’

Alf would like to receive an apology as it would ‘be almost an admission’ and is keen to pursue compensation from the Victorian Government.

‘The sexual and physical assaults I suffered under state care made me a worse person and an even worse citizen … the system failed me; I was well and truly wronged … [Compensation] would improve my life and … give me some pleasure that I’ve missed out on.’

Alf is still unsure why he has survived, ‘Maybe it’s just my “stuff you” attitude, like you didn’t beat me … Maybe it’s that I’m much stronger … Whatever you do I’m going to survive … I’ve learnt to survive’.

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