A few years ago Damien got hold of his state ward file, which detailed his time at a Salvation Army boys’ home in Western Australian in the 1970s. Unable to bring himself to read the file, he handed it to his girlfriend, Sally. Damien was hoping that the information would be easier to bear if she read it to him. It wasn’t.
The file revealed that Damien was sent to the home at age 13 after being labelled an ‘uncontrollable’ child. The home was a brutal place where boys sometimes violently attacked each other. One day they turned on Damien. He told the Commissioner:
‘A few of the other lads were going to gang up on me, and it was getting a little bit hairy in the yard itself. Tom Keebers, he was the supervisor I think, he offered me to go up to his house to stay there for the night.’
That night Damien was just settling down to sleep on the couch when Keebers called him into the bedroom.
‘Being young as I was, I went and sat on the bed and lied down, and before I knew it the bed was shaking and I think he was masturbating behind me. And that really scared me. I got up and went back to the couch, and nothing more was said or anything.’
A few weeks later Keebers introduced Damien to a woman named June Ridley, saying that she was going to become his foster carer.
‘I ended up going to her place on the weekends for about six weekends or something like that, and every time I went there she’d have sexual intercourse with me … It really confused me and I didn’t know what to do. I thought the only thing to do was to run away.’
Damien escaped from the home several times but always found his way back, or was dragged there. Eventually the visits to Ridley’s house stopped – he’s not sure why – and Damien did his best to get on with life, never mentioning the abuse to anyone.
Since then he’s had trouble forming relationships and holding onto jobs. He has self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. He was married for a while but never told his wife about the abuse.
‘I was just, I suppose, a little embarrassed to tell. I bottled it all up.’
Then about two years ago a tragic event pushed Damien to speak up and get help.
‘When my two kids got molested by my mother’s boyfriend, I started talking about it. I suppose it just opened up old wounds again.’
For months after that, Damien carried in his wallet the phone number of a support service for victims of child sexual abuse. Eventually he rang them and connected with a support group.
With the group’s help, Damien was able to get hold of the file that was then read to him by his now ex-girlfriend, Sally. Her reaction devastated him.
‘She was just getting disgusted, I suppose, while she was reading … Come across a few things that my mother had done, and she just used that against me and, you know, out the front abusing my mum for seven hours, which I thought was pretty unfair.’
Damien and Sally broke up not long after that. It was painful for Damien. At the time of his session with the Commissioner, he was still recovering. The support group is providing ongoing counselling, and Damien has been repaying the kindness by doing chores and buying bits of furniture to decorate the office.