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Chet Robert's story

Chet grew up in Victoria in the late 1970s and when his parents separated, he went to live with his father. When he was eight or nine, his father’s new wife told her husband, ‘It’s him or me. Make a choice’, and Chet was sent to a boys’ home in Sydney.

The boys’ home wasn’t right for Chet, and it wasn’t long before he was moved to a home in Melbourne run by the Christian Brothers. ‘At first it was scary … all alone and it was big and yeah, I didn’t like it.’ Chet spent two years in this home.

Chet told the Commissioner that ‘the Brother that I lived with, he was pretty cruel. He used to have a room [with] no windows, no doors, no cracks … If you were running around at night and not in bed, he’d come out and grab you and he had a … bed in it and he’d put you in it and shut the door, and I’m scared of the dark … It used to scare me’.

There was a youth worker at the home who began to groom Chet, paying him special attention and allowing him extra time when the boys took turns riding bicycles after school. The worker had ‘the cool unit’, with games, music and a kitchen where the boys were allowed to cook whenever they liked.

‘The early memories I have is of [the youth worker] touching me in his music room … [He] started teaching me guitar … then his hands went down my pants. I just froze. I was scared, you know. I didn’t even know what to think, and like … I just agreed because I was scared. Just wanted to get out of there.’

The abuse escalated, and when Chet stopped going to the music room ‘he stared raping me in the weekend unit, which continued for months’. Chet told the Commissioner that, ‘because I was getting hard, I thought that encouraged him. That maybe he thought I liked it. I didn’t know. I was confused. I didn’t know that it just went hard if the wind blew that way. I found that later on in life. I didn’t know that at the time’.

Chet often found himself alone in the unit which housed boys who didn’t go home on weekends. His mother would sometimes come and take him out for the day, and ‘I would cry and say, “Mum, please can I come home?” but I wouldn’t tell her why. I regret that now because I know that she would have took me home’.

Chet left the boys’ home when he was about 13 and it wasn’t long before he was kicked out of his father and stepmother’s home. He lived on the streets on and off until he was 30, ‘using drugs, coming to jail. I just buried my head in any drug I could get. I just wanted to forget about it. I didn’t want to think about it anymore’. As well as drugs, Chet has a history of self-harm, and has attempted to take his own life several times.

Chet’s life of crime began with ‘just stealing food … stuff like that, and clothes … petty things like that … And then as I got more into drugs, it escalated into armed robberies and burglaries … I’ve done something like 23 years jail now … It’s cost me my whole life’.

Chet believes that if he made a claim for compensation for what happened to him, it would be ‘making money off something that’s dirty … I don’t think it’s something that’s appropriate, but I don’t know. It’s ruined my life. It’s cost me 20 years jail’. He is also wary of reporting his abuse to the police, because in jail, ‘they ingrain you … you can’t lag’.

Approaching the Royal Commission has ‘thrown me in a bit of a loop. I’ve been put into an obso cell a couple of times. I cut my wrists … I’ve chewed all my nails off my fingers. I’ve just … [the memories], were buried for so long. Like I just buried them under drugs and drugs and drugs and in jail, drugs, still you know. People say, “There’s no drugs in jail” … There’s probably more drugs in jail than there is outside. That’s sad, but I mean, that’s how I had to live … I can’t think about it every day’.

Chet has trouble talking about his abuse, because ‘I feel ashamed and feel dirty’. But when other prisoners begin talking about boys’ homes, ‘it brought all these feelings back again … I’m only speaking now so it doesn’t happen to someone else. I’m gonna leave [it] at that, as it’s makin’ me sick’.

Chet has been drug-free for a while now and has been encouraged by visits and phone calls with family members. He has also been talking to a psychiatric nurse about his abuse. Chet told the Commissioner, ‘I’m trying to hope that by opening this door it might set me free. It might set me free. It might give me some peace and I might be able to … move on’.

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