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Aron John's story

Despite his ‘dysfunctional’ home life, Aron was a ‘good kid, respectful, manners, all that sort of stuff’, and did well in sport. His father was an alcoholic, who sometimes became violent and abusive. The family moved around a lot, and Aron found this unsettling.

He started wagging school and smoking marijuana when he was 10 years old, mixing with kids who were in trouble with police. He began committing petty crime, and was eventually charged with various offences.

In the late 1970s, when he was 11 years old, he was admitted to a juvenile detention centre in suburban Brisbane. The admission process was terrifying – he was stripped down, dusted with some kind of powder, and showered. Guards watched him throughout this, and he felt scared, alone, and vulnerable.

Aron was sexually abused by two officers. One of these men touched him inappropriately, while the other, Mr Bernstein, took him to a downstairs room for punishment a number of times.

Bernstein physically assaulted Aron, and made him drop his trousers, bend over, and touch his toes. ‘Initially it was just all touch and feel type stuff, and feeling my backside, but it progressed to include digital rape.

‘I knew he had his penis out, wanking as he was feeling me, but it was only ever digital penetration as such. That happened quite a few times.’

Aron was very sore and went to see the nurse. When he told her his bottom was hurting, she tried to dismiss the issue by saying he had probably just pulled a muscle. ‘That was just as bad as what happened, ‘cause I’m pointing to my backside to the nurse, and I was bruised and hurt and I’m saying, there’s something not right here. I couldn’t get the words out.’

He insisted that she examine him, but she refused.

‘It makes me angry, furious that this nurse just brushed it off the way she did, and couldn’t pick up on what I was trying to tell her ... I think that lady, she done the wrong thing by me that day.’

Aron did not formally report the abuse to other staff, and suspects other boys were being abused by Bernstein. There was also an older boy, who would walk around the boys’ dormitories at night, trying to make them touch his penis.

Aron became ‘distant, different ... very much alone. I’m still that way now to this day. Although I have fairly good communication and social skills, I still feel different’. He gained a reputation ‘as a kid that would have a go ... that would get up and fight you’, and has never been able to maintain relationships.

At one point during his teens Aron tried to tell his father what had happened to him, ‘but I don’t know what he ever done with it ... And then I just, Mum lost me, I just was gone.’

Living on the streets as a teenager, he would engage in sexual acts with men in exchange for drugs. The abuse ‘pretty much desensitised me, in a roundabout way, to that sort of abuse happening to me ... It was only fellatio type acts for alcohol or drugs or whatever, and then allowing myself to be felt ... It pretty well twists you up as a man, doesn’t it?’

These activities made Aron question his own sexuality at times. ‘I feel it’s affected my identity, or my sexuality in a way. I’m not homosexual by no means ... But I’ve never been sure of my sexuality, 100 per cent confident in my sexuality.’

In later years Aron has started to realise the ongoing impacts of the abuse he experienced as a child.

‘I struggle with this now ... As an adult, I’ve always had a thing that we make our choices, you know what I mean, get over it. You man up, that’s exactly right. And can’t blame all that for being who you are now. But just the same, there’s that side to myself that I just don’t understand why I just destruct, self-destruct. There’s little things I’ve never been able to put my finger on, self-sabotage.’

Aron spent more time in juvenile detention, and progressed to adult jail. His criminal history is extensive, and largely drug-related, and he met with the Commissioner in prison. ‘I’ve spent my whole life in institutions.’

Although aware of the state redress scheme at the time it was open, he did not wish to engage with it. He has never reported the abuse to police, or sought any kind of compensation, but feels he may be ready to do so now.

At times Aron finds it hard to be hopeful about the future. Even so, he realises it is not too late for him to seek help, or to change his old patterns of behaviour. A few years back he ‘made a decision to stop taking drugs ... try and have some quality of life’.

He has considered suicide, but feels that maybe ‘it won’t be a wasted life’ if he can try to help others. ‘I am a Christian, that’s probably my saving grace ... When I do look back at it all, apart from the violence and the abuse, there’s still a good person there.’

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