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Conrad James's story

‘I was classed as a neglected child when I was younger and I got taken away … They put me in a couple of foster homes, but I didn’t really fit in with them.’

In the late 1970s Conrad’s family lived in Tasmania. When he was two he was taken from his family and placed in care, and at 13 he was placed with a family who had a boy in his class at school. They also had another son who was about 17 or 18.

The foster family had a small shed down the bottom of their house and the older brother ‘used to drink and that with his mates all the time … I weren’t allowed down there all the time, but sometimes I was allowed down there and that’s where it happened’.

Conrad was sexually abused five or six times in the shed, after the older boy gave him drugs and alcohol.

Even though Conrad was brought up to believe that ‘to dob on someone is like a big deal’, he told his welfare officer about the abuse. ‘She basically … it felt like she didn’t believe what I said, so nothing really got done about it. What happened was, it got that bad where virtually after that I played up at school …

‘I got suspended three times in a row and they were going to expel me and basically no one [asked what was going on] … I was one of the unlucky ones, where I actually got [sent] to the boys’ home without being sentenced or anything like that, and they put me in maximum in there … the secure unit.’

After spending time in the juvenile detention centre, Conrad was given the opportunity to get an exemption so he could leave school and go to work. ‘I took that straight away because that got me away from the foster parents … But … after that, with my welfare officer, I had no contact with her … As far as I was concerned, she was like my parents …

‘When I was 17, I ended up going to maximum security jail. I still went through the boys’ homes a couple of times. I still had nothing to do with [the welfare officer]. She didn’t come and see me. Nothing. She basically left me … The worst thing is, I confronted her about the situation [in foster care] and when she … just ignored it, I thought, “Well, what am I supposed to do?”’

Conrad believes that because he had been classed as a troubled child, and had been in juvenile detention centres before he went to the foster home where he was sexually abused, his foster parents may have thought ‘it was part of the way I was acting’.

Because Conrad has been in and out of prison a lot, if he reported his abuser to the police now, ‘it feels like I’m being labelled as a dog … and back in here, I’d be treated differently. That’s just my way about it. Because I keep going back to jail all the time, it’s … going to be a lot harder for me … Even though the fellow does deserve to be punished for it’.

When Conrad applied to a Tasmanian redress scheme for compensation for the abuse he experienced at the foster home, he was given a minimal payment of $14,000. ‘Everyone else got 20 to 30, 40,000 … They only gave me 14.’

When he received his payment he was not offered any support, and he doesn’t remember getting a letter of apology. To Conrad, an apology would mean nothing without some support. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder when he saw a psychiatrist about 10 years ago, and at the time of the redress scheme, was living on the streets.

Conrad has had issues with drugs and alcohol in the past, but he decided that he wanted to try and make something of himself, and he gave them up. He now occasionally smokes marijuana, and ‘that’s understandable, because I’ve given up all the rest of it …’

In the last 10 years, Conrad has ‘been in prison probably two, three times. That’s pretty good for me. So that means I’m trying to get better. I don’t like blaming what happened to me when I was a young kid …

‘I got to a certain age when I thought, “Well, hang about, I can’t really blame that all the time. I’ve got to take responsibility for me own actions … I was starting to do well for myself but every time I have a bit of a hiccough now, they’ve punished me very, very hard.’

Although Conrad has mentioned his traumatic upbringing when he has been in court, it has not been taken into consideration when he has been sentenced.

Conrad believes the welfare department failed in their duty of care. They were supposed to look after his welfare until he was 18.

‘[They] hurt me the most I think because they didn’t … I confided in them … They shut me off, then from 16, 17 … when they were still supposed to be my parents, or my guardians, I can’t remember speaking to them … I had no support from them at all. No conversations. Nothing … I was still a teenager.’

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