Demitri migrated from southern Europe to Sydney with his mother and stepfather as a seven-year-old in the mid-1980s. His earliest years had been very difficult. His mother had fled a physically and sexually violent relationship when Demitri was about two, and the pair had then lived on the streets.
‘I remember living under a cardboard box and under bridges … It was really, really horrible’, he told the Commissioner. ‘We were living more like gypsies than anything.’
Australia promised a better life, but Demitri’s stepfather Tony was different in the new country.
‘He started getting on alcohol; alcohol obviously changed him. And because I wasn’t his son he used to take out a lot of his anger on me’, Demitri said.
‘At first it was all just hitting, hitting, hitting, and really abusive hitting, me and my mother; then he started touching, and from touching he started raping, and so on.’
It wasn’t only Tony who sexually abused Demitri. Tony was Catholic, and took Demitri to church on Sundays. He’d leave the boy there for Sunday school, in the charge of Father Constant. Constant was a friend of Tony’s, who ‘enjoyed doing the same things that he was doing’, said Demitri.
‘He would start touching me, and then from touching it became other stuff – oral sex and things like that. And it just went on and on and on till I was a little bit older, I think I would have been maybe 10 or something like that.’
The abuse at home continued until Demitri was a teenager. When he was 16, he ran away and life ‘just turned to shit’.
Shortly before, he’d learned for the first time that Tony was not his biological father as he’d always thought. His real father was still in Europe. The information was a shock.
‘It came with a lot of depression and anger and I lost my mind. I started turning to drugs and from drugs it turned into other stuff, and other stuff – it just wrecked my life, mate. It’s just a nightmare. It seems to me that everything’s my fault and – I’m just having nightmares over and over about this stuff …
‘That’s pretty much the summary of what happened. I don’t know what else to say.’
Tony is dead now. So is Demitri’s biological father. Demitri is in jail, awaiting trial for the most recent in a long series of criminal offences. He hasn’t been able to speak to his mother since he’s been inside, coming up to a year. She is very ill, he said.
Demitri has had some counselling but felt his counsellor was too young and inexperienced to be of real assistance.
‘It is a little bit helpful when you start talking about it because I would never have found myself talking about this and being comfortable talking about this. But at the end of the day unless you’ve gone through the trauma that I’ve gone through, the amount of trauma, it’s hard to connect with a counsellor, especially when it’s a person so young, as well, who has no experience of life. They’re straight out of university and all they know is the books. It’s very hard to talk about something so personal.’
Even now, he said, speaking to the Commissioner about his experiences was difficult. ‘It’s just very horrific. I just can’t believe somebody that portrays themselves to be a priest or portrays themselves to be your father, or says that they love you, that they could do such a horrible thing. And it’s happening everywhere around us.’
He felt that ongoing counselling from an ‘older person’, rather than one-off or irregular sessions, would be useful. For now he wanted the chance to take part in a drug rehab program. He’d been in one before and learned some basic life lessons that he’d missed out on until then. It had got him talking about his childhood, his core beliefs, ‘everything’, he said.
‘Things that I do affect everyone around me, everything they’ve done to me affects me … All these little things I’ve learned. I really want to get the chance to go to a rehab. I think it’ll help me, in the future anyway. So that’s where I’m at, at the moment.’
In general, it’s a struggle for him to manage outside jail. He and others like him need more support, he said. He wants to stay off drugs, but doesn’t feel confident he’ll be able to do that. ‘Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t’, he told the Commissioner.
‘I just feel there’s not enough to help people like us. I’ve been in and out of jail all my life. A lot of it is because I’ve got no family or no support out there and all I know is to turn to drugs – that’ll make the nightmares go away, that’ll make everything fine. Sometimes we feel lost and empty. How could this happen to us? They’ve taken everything that’s pure away from me. It’s a nightmare. It’s very, very traumatic …
‘Sometimes I feel like I’m better off dead, believe me, a lot of times … That’s not to say I would personally take my own life, I wouldn’t do that – it’s just that sometimes I feel hopeless, like no matter what I do, there’s just not enough help. I’m 37 years old, I’ve got nobody out there. My mother’s dying, I’ve got no help whatsoever, and every time you ask for help or you go outside and you say I need a place, or I need a job, or I need this and that, there’s nobody – it just seems like you’re going around in circles.’