Bob Owen's story

Bob was labelled ‘uncontrollable’ when he was about 11 years old. It was an unsurprising outcome, considering he had been enduring regular violence from his father and sexual abuse at the hands of his uncle. He was taken to a doctor about his uncontrollable behaviour. Bob thinks his father would have initiated that, as his mother had little power in the household.

He was transferred from his family – he’s not sure if he was made a ward of the state – to a Salvation Army home. There, Captain Northcott used cruelty, humiliation and physical abuse as tools to control the boys. Bob was hit in the face and had his head pushed down the toilet. Mrs Northcott forced him to take medication.

The regular mistreatment was accompanied by ‘force-fed religion’. And if the boys didn’t sing the songs, there would be punishment. It was a ‘quasi-dictatorship in one building’.

But the abuse Bob suffered wasn’t just at the hands of the staff. Another boy at the home, who was a similar age, forced Bob into various sexual acts.

Bob didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. He was at the home for a year and then returned to his family, where the sexual abuse continued.

‘It was like a cementing of things that were normal, which were not. Not for a kid of that age. Growing up, it was just like a continuation of [the Salvation Army home]. I just got older, that was all.’

When he was 15 he tried to tell his mother about his uncle’s sexual abuse but she didn’t want to know. On that basis, he made no mention of what had happened in the boys’ home.

When he was older Bob took refuge in alcohol, drugs and ‘promiscuity’ to survive. He also got high on risk. ‘I was heavy into drugs, I was heavy into my motorbikes and stuff like that … I felt okay as long as I felt adrenalin running through me.’

In his twenties Bob tried to get hold of his file but wasn’t permitted access. In his forties he sought legal advice about compensation from the Salvation Army. Captain Northcott denied all charges but in the mid-2000s Bob eventually received a financial settlement from the Salvation Army.

He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is on various medications. Anger has been an issue for Bob but, as he demonstrated during his talk with the Commissioner, he uses humour as an effective survival tool.

However Bob often falls into a state of mind that he calls ‘a darkness’.

These episodes of darkness have been getting more frequent and he is keen to undergo counselling. ‘I want to get those tools back.’ But he’s frustrated by the fact that it’s hard to consult with counsellors out of hours. After-hours access to therapy was one of his recommendations to the Commission.

His other recommendations were that all staff who work with children undergo psychological assessment and that children’s homes be run by government, not charities.

‘I don’t think there’s any … choice in the matter.’

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