Douglass grew up with his family in a coastal region of New South Wales, and was a young boy when his parents divorced.
When he was eight, in the late 1980s, his mother’s new partner ‘tried to strangle me to death one night’. As a result, he was removed from his family home by the Department of Community Services (DOCS). Initially he went to live with his grandparents, but when it became apparent they were too old to care for him Douglass entered the foster care system.
The first foster family Douglass went to live with was the Fishers. The Fishers fostered several children and also had an adopted son, Carl, who was about 13 at the time. Mr Fisher would often punish the children by instructing them to remove their pants before he made them bend over a barrel while he hit their buttocks with his belt. Fisher would also drive the children to a dirt track where he would leave them to ‘fight’. Because of this, Douglass felt he could not tell his foster parents when Carl began abusing him.
‘I remember distinctly that he dragged me to the lantana and he held me down and he used to anally rape me. And it hurt and I’d never done this before and he was the first person that started all that with me. I was scared all right.’
Douglass was abused by Carl in this manner regularly during the 12 months he lived with the Fishers. Terrified of the much bigger boy, Douglass never felt that he could tell anyone else what was happening.
‘It happened a lot, it was pretty much when the parents weren’t there. He used to have power over me and when I was young I was pretty much a quiet little fellow … So I was pretty mixed up from the first place I went to.’
Douglass told the Commissioner that between the ages of nine and 17 he cycled through five different foster homes and seven different schools. He was repeatedly faced with abusive environments, there was no stability and no one he could talk to. ‘It was usually all pretty much the same. Sexual abuse or some sort of abuse. Wasn’t run very well back then, DOCS. I was so scared.’
Although he ‘started mucking up at school’, Douglass found school to be his only escape from the abuse he was experiencing in foster care. ‘Just to get away from the foster home places, going to school. That was my freedom.’
During his adolescence Douglass was placed in a group home that housed several children in the foster care system. A friend of a friend of one of the residents there was Patrick Surian, a man in his early 30s whose father was in the police force and who spent a lot of time at the home even though he didn’t work or live there. During this time, Surian would regularly abuse Douglass when he came to visit.
‘He did things to me for months and months and months. Whenever he had a spare time it happened. And he didn’t hold back at all, that bloke. He did some terrible things to me …
‘I always thought that I’d never see my 18th birthday ‘cause I thought I was some sort of a monster and that’s why this was happening to me. I thought I was gay and I had all these stupid thoughts … It was just so confusing to me. It scared the S-H-I-T out of me what these people were doing. I never said anything.’
When he was in his early 20s, Douglass tried to report Surian to the police but he did not get far and suspects this was due to Surian’s family connection. More recently he tried again at a different location but found the experience traumatising and could not accurately recount his experiences.
‘I went to the police and tried to make a statement about all of this. I got into for about maybe 15 minutes. I sat there and I started shaking like a leaf and I couldn’t get it all out. And sort of made a bit of a bogus statement. I only said a couple of things and I wanted to get it all out and I haven’t been back since …
‘It’s scary sitting in front of a detective and a whole shop full of police because it really scares the hell out of me. Patrick’s dad was a detective in the police force and going to a police station and trying to report all this, it sort of freaks the hell out of me.’
Douglass was in his mid-20s experiencing numerous mental health issues when he had a chance encounter with a social worker who helped him pull his life together. With her help, Douglass applied for and received $39,000 compensation for the abuse he experienced.
‘From the end of DOCS to the middle of mental health I had many attempts at suicide, I had really heavy psychotic episodes, I was locked in the isolation side. I had a hell of a time. If not for that lady that came along in 2005 I don’t even think I’d be alive today.
‘I used to smoke a hell of a lot of weed and I used to drink excessively. I don’t do any of that anymore, just cut it all out.’
Concerned that Surian was never brought to justice, Douglass is considering trying again to make a full statement to the police.
‘I want to fight for what I believe in. I believe that he child-molested me and he raped me …
‘I never grew up with my family, I was always in foster care ... It’s hard to get those years back. I was young. Didn’t have many good experiences in life.’