Cooper James's story

‘I thought no one cared … It destroyed me. I reckon that’s why I went off the rails.’

Cooper described himself as an ‘energetic child’. He grew up in a troubled environment with an absent father and a mother who abused drugs.

In the mid-1980s, after their mother was sent to jail, Cooper and his siblings were placed in an orphanage in Western Australia.

They remained there for several months, after which Cooper was separated from his siblings and placed in a foster home in a different state. During this time, Cooper was sexually abused by his foster parent. He said he was too young to understand what happened and didn’t report the abuse to anyone.

Shortly after this, he went to live with his paternal grandmother back in Western Australia. He recalls staying with her for several months before she contacted his father and told him to ‘come and get your kids’.

Cooper and his siblings then went to live with their father, an abusive man. Cooper was beaten several times to the point where he would wet his pants. He recalls being in contact with his mother during this time, and telling her what was happening. Welfare removed the children and they were placed in a children’s home in a different town.

At some point Cooper was placed in a psychiatric hospital, away from his siblings. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and prescribed several types of medication. At the hospital, Cooper attended primary school for half days and spent most of his time locked up. He said he was ‘too hyperactive’ to be with the other children.

While he was alone, Cooper came into contact with a male staff member who initially showed him affection, and then later raped him. The abuse occurred several times a week over the four months Cooper was at the hospital.

Cooper recalls that on one occasion a female worker walked in while the abuse was happening. She told her colleague to stop and get out. The abuse never happened again, but no one asked Cooper if he was okay. He was moved out of the hospital and sent to live back with his mother, who’d recently been discharged from jail.

As a child, Cooper began ‘acting out’. He would often run away and light fires. His mother continued to use drugs and on one occasion, she left him alone in the house without food for two weeks. Cooper believes welfare staff came to check on him and after this he was sent to yet another children’s home.

Cooper was nine when he was placed at an Anglican children’s home in a small town in Western Australia. Here, he was locked in a cupboard and raped by Angus, a staff member. Cooper remembers being alarmed by the blood coming from his anus and he ran to the bathroom then spent three hours trying to clean himself before his cottage parents discovered him in the shower.

A couple of days after this Cooper disclosed what Angus had done to the ‘boss on site’, but he was told to ‘go back to the cottage’. He doesn’t know if any action was taken, but shortly after his disclosure he was removed from the home and placed into foster care.

Throughout his teens and young adult years, Cooper became involved in crime. He spent time in juvenile detention and adult prisons, and was in and out of jail for more than a decade. He’d had periods of violence and was ‘anti-authority’. He’d abused drugs and alcohol, and at times had suicidal thoughts.

Cooper first disclosed details of the abuse to a prison psychologist when he was in his 30s. He hasn’t told his partner but plans to do so. He never reported the perpetrators to police and when the Western Australia redress scheme was available, he ‘wasn’t ready’ to tell his story and therefore missed out on a payment.

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