Dougie James's story

‘My problems started when I was a kid … I used to get belted a lot by [my] stepfather, and that went further.’ After Dougie was sexually abused by his stepfather, ‘I guess it … sort of like became the norm for me. It felt like it was part of normal life.’

Later, his ‘very Christian-orientated’ mother sent him to the local church where he met Father Warren.

‘I remember the priest … used to come to the house and drink beer with my mum and stepfather … [Father Warren] encouraged the altar boys to drink wine and then that transitioned into the abuse there. I think I was about under nine, 10.’

Dougie described Father Warren as being very friendly, ‘and then the beer drinking and the drinking of the wine and there was me and another fella, yeah … made us perform each other and then, later on, with him and again, quite normal because it’s been happening at home … Just normal’.

After a while, Dougie ‘began questioning things in my own head, and started playing up, running away, and made a state ward and went to [a government-run boys’ home in Sydney]’. No one asked why he was running away or playing up.

‘The progression from your [stepfather] to the trusted priest, you think it’s normal … In the later years, [you think], “I’m the cause” and you blame yourself and that’s why you’re ashamed to talk about it … You think to yourself, “Why didn’t I stop that?” You don’t know better.’

Dougie was labelled mentally unstable and sent to a number of psychiatric institutions in the late 1970s, when he was 10 or 11. They told him he was schizophrenic. He was medicated, but when he thought he was ‘starting to lose my mind … I stopped taking them’.

At the boys’ home, Dougie was sexually abused by a female worker when he was about 12 or 13. It was ‘the first time I encountered sexual intercourse with a lady, an older lady … She used to take us downstairs … into a room’. She also took him and another boy to her house one night, and abused them there.

A male worker started to ask questions about what was going on between Dougie and the woman. The male worker then started to sexually abuse Dougie, giving him special privileges to keep him from telling anyone.

Dougie was introduced to heroin at 11 by his cousins, when he went home for a weekend visit, and ‘by 13 I was a full-blown heroin addict at Kings Cross … I’ve been in recovery for two years now. That’s why I’m able to talk to you today. I’ve been dealing with it …

‘I’ve read a lot [about] abuse. It hurts inside that I could have become a predator. I’ve heard a lot of time you do. That’s the thing I’ve fought all my life, not to become. So there’s been that. Been trying to fight that part off.’

Dougie told the Commissioner, ‘When you’re young, it becomes normal to you. It’s not till later in life … I never put it down to why I used drugs. I always put it down to because I was unhappy with family, and I had grief issues … and stuff like that and the whole time, that’s been the underlying reason …

‘Now they say … I’m not schizophrenic. I’m more like [post-traumatic stress], depression and anxiety’.

During his current jail term, Dougie has been attending a drug course and seeing a counsellor so that he can ‘become part of the community and … be the person I want to be. A lot of things I do, self-sabotage things when they’re going right, which I only just worked out with the counsellor’.

When he leaves prison, Dougie hopes to be able to work with young people and those with drug and alcohol problems, and he has completed some courses during his current term.

‘I don’t want to be beaten. I know that I’m here for a reason and I do too much good, I’ve got too much of a heart to just … I’ve got to stay out of trouble long enough to be able [to work with those who need help].’

After ‘being brought up as a normal kid … next minute I’ve been bred into a criminal and now I’ve got to break the recidivism cycle … In prison life, rehabilitation is a dirty word. It doesn’t make sense. If you can rehabilitate a brain injury or a sport injury … I can’t go back to something I never was, so the key [for me], is re-education’.

Dougie believes that the Royal Commission has ‘made it easy for us … finally to know that there’s a part of the community that’s interested in this. It’s not just going to be swept under the carpet. I can feel that, and sense that, and that’s why it’s worth talking … for the future children’.

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