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Chester's story

Chester was an alcoholic who had been in and out of jail for violence and drink-related offences. A counsellor at Chester’s latest court hearing suggested his only hope of getting sober was to leave everyone and everything he knew behind. The judge agreed and imposed a state expulsion order.

‘I got there … but I was still drinking. We’d organised a house to lease but no job so the money ran out very quick. I was saved by the Salvation Army of all places. From that time to this I haven’t drank booze. The desire for it has completely gone.’

It’s ironic that Chester found help through the Salvation Army, since they were the ones who failed him in the first place.

Early in the 1970s, his father died in a car crash, an event that Chester said was like an explosion for the family. His mother suffered from a form of epilepsy and her medication left her in a state Chester described as ‘a sort of drifting off’.

‘Back then there was no real support as far as a welfare net goes but also Mum lost the plot … I remember many mornings waking up early and she’s not even in the house. One morning I remember setting alight to the house ’cause I played on the stove with hot oil on it which went straight up through the ceiling.’

Chester and his brother were placed in a residential home run by the Salvation Army and he stayed there from the age of eight until he was 11.

While he was there he was sexually abused by a boy of about 16 who lived at the home. This boy would often climb into Chester’s bed and rape him. Chester said it was common for the older boys to abuse the younger ones. There were also single men who frequently visited the home.

‘You got weekends come up so the home were allowing these – at that time they were called these lovely gentlemen – to take these kids out on the holidays and weekends. You didn’t have a choice. They said you did but you didn’t.’

Chester was regularly abused by one of these men who took him out on weekend trips. This also happened to his brother, who was abused by a different man who took him on trips.

Chester said that although he didn’t tell anyone about the abuse by the older boys in the house, somehow it became known and the house masters separated the older boys from the younger boys at night, but no further action was taken.

He told the Commissioner, ‘It’s so shame-based and you’re dealing with little kids. It’s extremely difficult in the circumstances, being in it, to actually do anything about it. You do feel very helpless’.

Chester went back to stay with his mother but there was conflict between himself and his mother’s new boyfriend. It didn’t take long for him to go off the rails. He became an alcoholic and was sent to prison for the first time at age 17.

After many years of criminal and alcoholic activity, he got the judge’s ultimatum and moved as far away from his home state as possible. He met his wife and they were together for 22 years until she recently passed away.

But things have not been simple. He gave up all contact with a daughter he had in his home state for fear of acting out his own abuse on her – something he had no thoughts of but didn’t want to take the risk. It has taken him a long time to learn why he was so often found himself in conflict with people, and he still has huge problems around issues of trust. He is no longer involved with the Salvation Army but he has found solace back in church.

‘I attend a really brilliant gospel church, they’re very focused on the real work, helping the poor and the homeless.’

He said his own experience has given him good insight into the troubles other people go through and is one of the reasons he doesn’t give up on helping people, even when they seem to keep failing.

And he understands the reverberations of child sexual abuse for everyone else.

‘We’re seeing the extreme devastation this sort of stuff causes in society as a whole … the result of one person’s betrayal as a child is thrashed out when they’ve got the power to be older and act up, like myself, we take it out on society. So society ends up paying the price.’

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