Angelo was about 15 years old in the early 2000s when he started stealing cars and breaking into houses. He ended up in a remand centre outside Sydney, sentenced by a magistrate to serve a six week term. While he was in the centre Angelo was sexually abused by Irina, one of the workers there.
The centre operated on a system of earned privileges with boys moving up levels when they behaved well. ‘The more levels you got up, the later you could stay up’, Angelo said. ‘So like the majority of kids were on level two. So level two you go to bed at say 7.30 or 8 o’clock.’ Angelo reached level four which meant he could stay up till 10 o’clock, and on higher levels boys were also allowed access to chocolates and other gifts sent to them by family members.
‘That’s when I first really come in contact with like that Irina, one on one’, Angelo said. ‘She’d take me in that room and give me munchies or whatever and she made suggestions. It was just like, how would I put it – this is bringing it back a bit, sorry. And suggestions were made and she’d like - through me clothing - she’d grab me on the penis. I was only young, I was a kid then virtually and it started with that, and then I didn’t push her away or anything like that. I was just, like, in shock you might as well say. I didn’t know what to think or expect and yeah, it started with that.’
Over following nights, Irina was alone with Angelo in a games room and performed oral sex on him. ‘It freaked me out a bit. She wasn’t threatening or anything like that; it was nice, like you were lucky, you know what I mean, like you’re lucky doing this.’
Angelo thought Irina was probably in her late 30s or early 40s, and he met her again when he served another term in remand within a few months of his first release. During a visit by his grandfather, who was his primary carer, Angelo told him what Irina had done.
‘He wasn’t too impressed’, Angelo said, and wanted to take the matter further but Angelo asked him not to because he feared being punished by other staff members, some of whom were ‘big men’, who were allowed to ‘flog’ inmates.
During Angelo’s second term in the centre, Irina again performed oral sex on him. At 16, he was moved to another juvenile justice facility and didn’t see Irina again.
He thought it common knowledge among other staff that Irina did ‘sexual things’ to boys. Angelo ‘kept quiet for a long time’, but knew ‘other boys that it happened to’.
‘The more that it happened, the more relaxed I became about it. First time it was like, “What’s this?” and as it went on like it was, I didn’t mind it as much, but I look back on it and now I’ve got words for it. And I know a 100 per cent I wasn’t the only person.’
After leaving the juvenile justice system, Angelo didn’t talk about the abuse again. ‘I think I kept it bottled it in for a lot of time. [I felt] mistrust towards people, especially females - like not trusting them and it’s probably hurt me for a long time where I haven’t been able to trust me partner, and I never actually got to tell her about this ‘cause I didn’t want to, like I feel a bit shameful.’
In the remand centre and afterwards, Angelo had a case worker who was ‘a lovely lady’, but he didn’t tell her what Irina had done. ‘I sort of think back now, think maybe I should have told her, like maybe it wouldn’t have happened to other people. She wasn’t one to sit on her hands or anything, like she would always help us.’
He wondered too whether speaking up at the time might have prevented the difficulties he experienced in later years managing his anger.
‘Anger’s got me in trouble a lot of times. Like I said, I’ve lost friends, relationships, partner, mother of me kids. It’s a lot of an impact and that’s the thing that you can never be compensated for.’
He thought that staff members in remand centres should always be with another worker. ‘That’s probably the best I can say, to avoid the same thing.’
‘You wouldn’t expect it, like I’ve heard stories from other people about male to male but back when I was there … I never seen anything like that. [It was] the other way.'