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Benedict James's story

Benedict grew up in Western Australia in the 1970s. His father died when he was young and his mother remarried. His stepfather was a violent alcoholic, so Benedict, ‘pretty much just run the streets, doing my own thing … and I sort of got into the crime of break and enters’.

Benedict told the Commissioner that when he was about eight or nine, he was made a ward of the state. He spent time in a number of foster homes and juvenile detention centres, where he was subjected to constant physical and sexual abuse.

When he told welfare officers that he was being sexually abused by his foster father, Des Freeman, they told him, ‘“Oh, you know, there’s not much we can do. We’ll see what we can do” and nothing become of it, so I ran away’. He kept running away and telling the police that he didn’t want to go back there, but they just kept sending him back.

Benedict often wagged school because he didn’t want to have to explain why he was covered in bruises. ‘[I] couldn’t go to the school carnival because I had bruises all over my back, on my arse, the back of my legs … I’d have to answer why I’ve got all these bruises on me, so I just didn’t go.’

From the outside, his foster family looked like a ‘real nice happy family, but behind closed doors it was horrible, like a horror movie’.

In between his placements at the Freemans, Benedict spent time in a number of juvenile detention centres. In the first of these, he was sexually assaulted by a male nurse. ‘He used to give me cigarettes and stuff like that.’

When he told one of the officers why he refused to go back to see the nurse, he was told, ‘“You’re telling stories. It never happened” and it did happen … [The officer] booted me and kept saying, “You gotta stop telling lies. You’re going to get people in trouble for something that never happened”, and I just took it. I couldn’t say nothing to any other staff.’

As well being sexually abused at the centre, Benedict was also beaten and locked in cells that were ‘like the adult cells that we’re in here today’. The detention centre was ‘very bad. It’s mentally done me over the years … The beatings I copped in there were unbelievable and not just little slaps, I mean I was full-on beaten’.

Benedict was sent from Western Australia to Queensland, to live with a sister his mother had never told him about. However, he ran away because of domestic violence in the house and ended up in another juvenile detention centre. Once again, he was physically and sexually abused by staff members.

At this centre, one of the officers ‘took me into the gym and he done things to me in there, had sex with me and … told me if I said anything I’d get longer, I wasn’t gonna get out … He done it to me probably three or four times in the gym’.

Benedict told the Commissioner, ‘I seen a lot of boys … their heads down. I mean, I’m not stupid. I knew what was happening to me … It’s not like you can walk up to ’em and say, “Oh, did such and such do this to you, like they did to me?” You know what I mean? That’s embarrassing. That’s why I’ve never, ever gone to anyone for help’.

The first time Benedict spoke to anyone about the abuse, apart from when he reported it to the Department of Family Services, was when he underwent psychiatric assessment before his last court case. The psychiatrist told him, ‘You’re mentally traumatised … you really, really copped the worst of it … You really show the signs of mental trauma’.

Benedict told the welfare officers about the abuse many times, but they didn’t do anything about it.

‘Nobody wants to man up to it and face the fact that it … did happen and we’re the ones that lived with it, and we’re scarred for the rest of our lives. That’s the worst part. It’s not like you can ever forget it. It doesn’t go away. It just gets worse, and now I’m in jail again, it puts you back there, really … the cells look the same.’

Benedict told the Commissioner that the physical and sexual abuse he experienced has cost him everything. ‘I’ve lived [with] a lot of demons over the years, like little things take you back there … You might just smell someone’s aftershave or something and it’s something that [one of his abusers] might have worn … and it just takes you back there …

‘It takes a bit to get it out of your mind. You never get it out of your mind, of course, but you just sort of try to get on with your day and just try and blank it, as hard as it is, you know.’

Once he is released from jail, Benedict is keen to try counselling. ‘It’d be good to try and get me life back … I would never have lived the life of crime … like I’ve never used drugs, but I was a bad alcoholic … It’d be good to be able to … get some real mental help.’

Benedict decided to approach the Royal Commission because, ‘I just didn’t want to live with it no more. I just think it’s time that you know, that people understand what really does go on and what has gone on … I just think … people need to be account[able] for what they’ve done’.

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