Brent and his mother’s new partner didn’t get on. One thing led to another and as a young teenager Brent was deemed uncontrollable and placed in a children’s home in Sydney’s west. It was the mid-1980s.
The kids at the home ranged in age, and boys and girls slept in separate dormitories. ‘During the day it was a real homey environment – it was like living in a house with a lot of kids’, Brent recalled. He had no problems with anyone. But nights were different. Brent was only there for a few weeks but during that time he was sexually abused on multiple occasions by a youth worker on night duty who came to Brent’s dormitory and assaulted him in bed.
‘It was pretty horrific.’
Brent can’t remember the youth worker’s name. But he remembers him pestering a girl in the other dormitory. And one night when Brent was in the hallway trying to hear what was going on, the youth worker caught him there. ‘Then he just started on me’, Brent said.
‘At first it was just him putting his hands under the blankets while I was laying there – terrified, as any teenage boy would be.’ It quickly escalated to masturbation and oral sex – ‘The only thing he didn’t do was anally penetrate’. Brent also heard another boy being abused in the dormitory. But he didn’t say anything to anyone.
Living with his family again, Brent got into more trouble. Eventually, when he was about 15, he ended up in a juvenile justice facility. After a while there he was rewarded for good behaviour with a place in a community skills program. This meant he was able to live in a kind of halfway house within the facility, with extra privileges and support. While in the program Brent found a job with a business nearby, where he worked for the next 25 years.
He didn’t want to lose the job or the privileges, he said, so that was one reason why he didn’t report what happened to him while he was there.
‘Anybody back then could come over as long as they were 18 years of age and sign you out into their custody and off you go with them for the weekend and do whatever you like’, Brent told the Commissioner. One weekend Brent went out with a man who usually took out Brent’s friend Pete. He ‘lured’ Brent out with the promise of a driving lesson.
‘I’m only a young fella, so I’m driving the car on the road, and he starts masturbating in the passenger seat which just freaks me out.’
The man instructed Brent to pull over into a paddock, then he pushed Brent face down on the bonnet of the car and raped him.
Back at the centre, ‘I just ran out the back and smoked joints with the rest of the boys and just ignored it. That’s how I dealt with it’. Later he told his friend Pete what had happened. ‘He just goes, “Yeah, that shit happens” … I didn’t know what to say. It was more embarrassing than anything as well.’
Looking back, Brent blames this episode on the fact he was allowed to leave the centre with a stranger. ‘They shouldn’t have let that happen. It should only have been parents or someone known to the family.’ He hopes lessons will be learned from stories such as his.
‘There should be a ton more accountability in these juvenile detention centres and who’s working in them … There needs to be more stringent checks for people working with kids.’
At the same time, he hopes that speaking out won’t compromise programs like the one he was part of.
‘I love everything that [facility] did for me as a kid. I loved that program ... I’d hate to see me talk and ruin places like that.’
Brent’s younger brother Phil was also sexually abused in an institution, and he later committed suicide. Phil told Brent about the abuse, but Brent didn’t tell Phil he’d been a victim too. ‘I was just too embarrassed. I felt ashamed it had happened to me. I didn’t speak about it to anybody.’
Brent finally told his wife after contacting the Royal Commission. They’ve been married for 10 years.
‘She was just blown away that I’d never told her’, he said. ‘I was very passionate about everything being on the table when we got married. And it’s just one thing I left out … She said it certainly explains a lot.’
He described the main impacts of his experiences as ongoing issues with anger management and authority.
‘I’m generally a very angry person. I can get really heated really quickly, and I hate authority like there’s no tomorrow.’ Disclosing the abuse has made him feel that even more strongly. ‘I just really hate the system. It’s designed to enslave and ruin people’s lives; I despise it, you know.’
At the same time, he’s positive about the difference that talking about his abuse might make to him. ‘I look at it now and I think, all this time I’ve carried that crap with me.’ On the advice of his wife, he plans to report it to police. ‘She said, “You’ve just to go do it; get it out of your system”, because it just plays on my mind non-stop.’ And he also feels he may seek out counselling, which until now he hasn’t been ready for.
‘I don’t know if I’m ready right now either, but it’s something I have to do. I want to talk about it a bit more and try and nut out some of my own personal behaviours I have … I’ve always self-managed, but you can do it so far and then that’s it. I just think it’s been a scary thing to confront.’