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Dougal Peter's story

Seven-year-old Dougal was sent to a Salvation Army home in suburban Sydney for six months during the early 1950s because of his family’s unstable and chaotic living situation.

Soon after arriving there he was placed in a dormitory with other boys, and became emotional and upset about being away from his family. As a result of his distress he wet the bed. He was made to wash out his pyjamas and sheets and was ridiculed by the other boys.

Not long after this incident Dougal woke one night to the dormitory supervisor reaching under his sheets and touching his crotch.

When Dougal asked what was happening, the man said he was checking if he had wet the bed again. Although he hadn’t at that point, he then became so frightened that he did wet himself. He was made to strip off his pyjamas and sleep naked.

Similar abuse continued for some time ‘as a nightly occurrence’. Dougal ‘could not sleep at night’ for fear, ‘because I knew this hand was going to come under my blanket and straight into my pyjamas’.

Eventually ‘my bed got shifted from where it was to next to his door. And then I got taken into his room, and stripped naked and accosted. It’s as clear as a bell in my mind ... I just closed my eyes; I was seven for God’s sake’.

When he was taken into the supervisor’s room he was made to lie on the bed naked. The man, who was also naked, would fondle Dougal, and make Dougal lie on top of him or sit on his lap.

‘I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me. I felt as though this was wrong ... I knew it just wasn’t right, it wasn’t normal.’

Being ‘frightened to death’ he did not tell anyone about the abuse. He suspects that ‘I wasn’t the only victim. Surely if I thought that I’d start to think there was something wrong with me’.

After the abuse ‘I suppressed everything. Except that I always was considered a bit of a strange bod ... Angry young man, very angry ... In later years I became quite good at adapting to my strange outlook on life, and just used it to my advantage, I’d make fun of myself etcetera. But anyway, that’s life’.

As a young man Dougal contemplated suicide, and now takes ‘my happy pills’ to help him manage his bipolar disorder and anxiety. He is uncomfortable being naked in front of others, and does not like anyone (including family) touching him. ‘I don’t think my son to this very day understands why I never let him in the bathroom with me.’

In his 40s Dougal had a breakdown and retired early. Unable to access his superannuation for some years, he ‘just sat in a chair in the corner’ while he and his wife survived on her income.

For a long time Dougal attempted to suppress his memories of the abuse.

‘No way in the world was it ever a fact that I blocked it out to the point where I never thought of it. My experience was constant, my memories were constant, to the point where it affected me ... I have blocked out the individual perpetrator, I must admit. That’s one face I don’t ever want to see again. But the incidents I could tell you.’

Throughout his life whenever he ‘struck personal problems’ his mind would turn to the abuse. ‘But I couldn’t talk about it, I didn’t want to talk about it.’

In the 1990s he saw a media report into abuse in the home. ‘I watched it and I broke down and had a weeping session with my wife ... [and] spilled my guts.’

Dougal did not know quite what to make of his reaction. ‘The first time I cried I felt that I’d let myself down, I’d let everyone down. I apologised to my wife, and she said, “Don’t apologise”. But up until then I always had this view of myself that I had to stay strong.’

He feels ‘very fortunate’ to have met his wife when they were in their teens, and credits her ‘entirely’ for his ability to get on with his life. ‘I finally had someone ... I found this girl that liked me and it just went on from there.’

Next he told his sister, who was supportive, and his elderly mother, who did not respond well. Even though she is still ‘in denial’ about what happened to him, he is now her carer and doesn’t push the point. ‘I’m not going to hurt her now.’

A couple of years ago Dougal wrote to the Salvation Army to advise them of the abuse. He received a response with an apology and an acknowledgement that they accepted his version of events. ‘But to me it’s just words on paper.’

The Salvation Army has also guaranteed Dougal ongoing counselling but he does not want to take up this offer. ‘It’s like when you tell the same story over and over again. I’m happy in the place where I am at the moment.’

All the same, he hates using the word ‘closure’, as he doesn’t feel he will ever be able to really put the abuse behind him. ‘I’ll never close it. The day I shut my eyes for the last time, that’s when it will close down. For what’s been done to me in a six month period of my life, has been an everlasting burden to bear.’

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