‘I thought I’d put this behind me, but you can’t do it. You just try and block it out as best you can and things resurface. I thought, come on I’ve got to do something about this now. This is a big opportunity for me to do something about this otherwise it’ll just go to waste.’
At 12 years of age, Ashley was picked up by NSW Police for shoplifting. Because he’d come to police attention before for petty theft and truancy misdemeanours, he was sent before a magistrate who made him a ward of the state and imposed a custodial sentence in a juvenile detention centre.
On his arrival at the centre, Ashley was allocated work in the health clinic. While there, he was digitally penetrated and forced to perform oral sex on a male nurse. The nurse suggested Ashley perform sexual acts on one of his colleagues and when Ashley refused he was physically abused and subjected to arbitrary punishment by both men. The beatings became so intolerable that Ashley eventually felt it was easier to comply with the men’s demands.
After three months in the centre, Ashley was released. He told his mother about the abuse but she didn’t believe him. A short time later, and worried about his behaviour, she took him to see a psychologist. Ashley disclosed the abuse to the psychologist who responded by pulling Ashley’s pants down and sexually assaulting him. ‘I can still vaguely remember him saying, “This is part of the session”. I don’t think so. At the time I was pretty scared. Looking back I’d say he would have been a qualified psychologist.’
Ashley told the Commissioner that when he came out of the session the last thing he thought of was disclosing the latest abuse to his mother. ‘I learned to keep my mouth shut.’
Not long after his release in the early 1970s, Ashley was again picked up by police. He was sent to another government-run boys’ detention centre where the emphasis was on rehabilitation rather than strict punishment. His mother and stepfather were allowed to visit and take him out on weekends, but while he was there he was sexually abused over weeks by a staff member who insisted on ‘treatment’ for a (non-existent) rash. This involved rubbing cream on Ashley’s genitals.
Another incarceration at the age of 15 saw Ashley sent to a third government detention centre. Here he was sexually assaulted by the superintendent as well as an adult male worker. He said he then made the mistake of telling a male nurse about the abuse and the next day found all his privileges withdrawn and an order to spend recess and lunch alone in the courtyard. From this and previous experience, he said he learnt never to tell anyone about the abuse.
‘You don’t open up, like with my mother and now there. I thought, I can’t tell my stepfather, I can’t tell my brother. I’m just going to isolate myself even more. And I did. And the worst thing about it is - this is the hardest part, it seems silly, but at the time it made sense - I entered an imaginary world where I could escape and be safe. And I still do it today. Silly.
I started doing books. I do about five or six a year. I still do it. I’m just in my imaginary world where if I’m stressed I go into that world, and be safe. I’m under control. No one’s going to hurt me there. I’m happy, and I’ve been doing this all my life.’
As an adult Ashley had seen various doctors and psychologists but he’d never told any of them about the abuse. He’d been prescribed anti-depressants but didn’t like taking them. ‘It takes away the pain, but it takes away everything else as well. I want to be who I am. I know who I am. It comes out but then it retreats back in very quickly.’
As a coping mechanism, Ashley used alcohol and drugs for many years. He said he’d never had successful relationships with women because he couldn’t ‘handle intimacy’. The birth of his daughter, however, had caused him to relook at some of the decisions he’d made in life.
‘Once my daughter was born I knew I had to do something. I was just treading water. With this sort of thing there is drug issues and alcohol. I did have drug issues and once my daughter was born I stopped. [I used] mainly amphetamines - that was good at the time I thought. It took away the pain and I sort of became myself again and I liked it and I was enjoying life. But then I became dependant and I spent the next 30 years trying to get off it.’
He told the Commissioner he was in a better place because of his daughter but he still found it difficult to form close friendships.
‘Even to this day I’m okay with people I don’t know. Once I start getting to know the person I think they can see through me about what happened and then I shy away from them. It’s just weird. I think, how can you know what happened? But is it paranoia or guilt? Suddenly I’m not good enough. They don’t make me feel that way, I’m my own worse enemy, I really am. I know I can feel myself going down and the anxiety kicks in and I go, I can’t see that person ever again.’
In the weeks leading up to his private session with the Royal Commission, Ashley had been having second thoughts about whether he should go. He was glad he had. Only a few days earlier, he’d told his stepfather about the abuse.
‘I’m just here to get something off my chest and hopefully I’ll walk out that door and I feel better about myself. That’s the reason I’m here, and to help other people as well.’