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Deon's story

Deon was four years old when his parents separated. He was an only child and stayed in his mother’s care. In the 1980s, when he was six years old, Deon was in an accident that left him with frontal lobe damage affecting his learning and cognitive abilities.

At eight years of age he was sexually abused by slightly older female relatives who masturbated him and attempted penetration. He became aggressive and difficult for his mother to manage.

By the age of 10, he was declared uncontrollable, placed on a care and protection order and taken to a Queensland government-run boys’ home. Soon after, Deon became a ward of the state.

In this centre, he experienced physical abuse and punishments that included being ‘put down in the “black room”’ without sunlight for a 24-hour period.

Once out, Deon was placed in different foster homes but, by the time he was 11 or 12 years old, he was back in a state-run youth detention centre. This centre had a culture of extreme punishments as well.

‘You’re put in … a time out room with nothing in it, just carpet … no toilet access, no nothing … [for] 24 hours.’

From that centre Deon was moved to a Catholic-run boys’ home where he spent three years. He was 12 years old.

The Brothers who ran the home were seen to provide an exceptional place for troubled boys.

‘Looking back it was selective. Not everyone would suffer … it was more portrayed as “look at these kids - they go to school, they go to church, they go horse riding, motorbike riding” and then everything else was the physical and sexual abuse. Not everyone would have suffered it.’

In the home, the boys lived in separate cottages with ‘cottage parents’ looking after the boys’ everyday needs. In one cottage Deon lived in, ‘the mother would shower us sometimes and dry us’, despite the boys all being teenagers.

Any boys granted weekend visits with family – something that only happened fortnightly and which could often be withheld as punishment – were strip searched when they returned to the home.

‘Every time I come back I’d be strip searched.’

Deon was often sexually abused during these strip searches. One of the older Brothers would separate the boys as they arrived back at the home.

‘He’d say to the other Brother, “Right take Deon, strip search him through that room over there” and it [where the abuse occurred] would be like a medical centre.’

The Brother who abused Deon was seen as more approachable by the children.

‘He was probably more friendly towards kids and he’d ask to play with your genitals, and ask to play with his stuff.’

Deon was also abused by the Brother in a time out room.

He never spoke about his abuse to anyone in the home and the Brother reassured him that the abuse was normal.

‘I never talked about it and I never heard anyone talk about it … I didn’t think that I needed to. I didn’t know any difference … [He’d say] “This is alright. There’s nothing wrong with this. This is normal what we do in here” … At that age you didn’t think anything of it.’

He left the home when he was about 15 years old and went back to live with his mother. Deon didn’t go to school and didn’t find work. He was soon getting into trouble with the police and at 17 years of age he was given a long custodial sentence.

After a month in a youth centre, Deon was placed in an adult prison for transition to the adult population when he turned 18. He found jail less violent and abusive than the boys’ home or the state-run institutions.

‘Sometimes you get looked after … Friends that are in mainstream said “He’s alright, look after him”.’

Deon has spent much of his life in and out of jail. Once released he would manage for a few months but would then turn to drugs.

‘Seem to go alright for a little while … normally use drugs to block out stuff … it’s only over the last few years I’ve learnt to try and get help [on the outside].’

He has begun to seek counselling inside and outside of jail for his very early sexual abuse by his relatives. He now realises that his later sexual abuse has further compounded his attitude towards relationships and intimacy. He didn’t speak to a counsellor about his years of abuse until he was 31 years old.

‘In here you’re taught not to talk to counsellors or officers [but] I was in jail and had a panic attack and … started to talk to them and started to open up about certain problems … Now I try to seek help so I don’t have to keep taking drugs.’

Deon is now on medication for his anxiety and depression and his mother continues to support him. He is hopeful that with ongoing counselling he will be able to stay outside of jail.

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