‘If you shut up it was over, if you took the hit it was over, if you just let them bend you over it was done … it affects you a lot more … than you think.
‘You’re a kid and you’re in the homes through no fault of your own. I didn’t do anything for them to do what they did … I was a ward of the state and [this is] the legacy of it.’
Emerson was born into a large family in Melbourne in the early 1970s. He was removed from his parents’ care when he was a new born baby due to domestic violence and abuse. He was initially placed in a Catholic infants care home. When he was two years old he was made a ward of the state and moved to an Anglican residential children’s home where he was reunited with a number of his siblings.
He remembers that his first carer in the home was kind and that ‘I know that if I had grown up with her, I would have had a beautiful life’.
Emerson suffered extreme and horrific sexual and physical abuse at the home, committed by a number of different workers and their partners, until he was deemed uncontrollable and forced to leave the system when he was a teenager.
In a written statement he submitted to the Royal Commission Emerson said, ‘I have been repeatedly raped by both one woman and multiple men since I turned five. I have had my bones broken. I have scars all over my body. I need and want to learn how to talk about the trauma I have been left with. This is the first time I have reached out for help in my life’.
When Emerson was five years old, a sadistic and manipulative woman took over the role of house mother at the home. She inflicted brutal treatment on many of the children but particularly on Emerson. He was locked in a rat-infested pantry for hours, she would randomly beat him producing welts and bruising, and she would dress him in clothing that had been worn by her husband and sewn to fit a small size.
‘When I was in these clothes I was her little man. I was treated like a smart little boy and she would always say “I love you little man”. This was when she would sexually abuse me. The next day I was dressed in rags, sometimes not even a jumper when it was cold and I was treated like rubbish. I remember feeling humiliated.’
Some mornings the house mother would come into his bed and sexually abuse him. When she did, Emerson ‘knew then that I would have a good day free of physical violence’.
‘When I was in the homes I used to love Peter Pan. I was thinking Neverland all the time.’
A respite carer was also employed at the home and the children would spend a weekend or a holiday in her care at her private house. During Emerson’s stays in the carer’s house her husband would rape him. This continued until he was 13 years old.
Emerson has reported these rapes to police and the man is facing four charges relating to Emerson’s abuse. It has taken three years for the police to build a case against the man and Emerson finds it frustrating that the number of incidents his abuser has to answer for in court is much lower than what was perpetrated against him.
‘If I … look the wrong way, they [police] will lock me up that quick it’s not funny. And that’s just it. It’s taken them that long to justify four ... I’ve got a magic number of 119, you know what I mean, in my head. That’s how many times.’
During his time in the home, Emerson was abused further, both sexually and physically, by a second staff member, a man, at the home.
‘He was extremely brutal. When he walked into the room my knees would tremble. I was petrified of him … used to threaten me with just a look. I was too scared to say anything about the assaults to anyone.’
At one point in his young life, Emerson made the decision to live with the respite carer and her abusive husband rather than be around this man in the home.
‘I thought the ongoing sexual abuse … was a better option than having the sexual and physical abuse [in the home]. Anything would have been better than living with [him]. I thought many times that he would kill me.’
Both this man and the house mother have died but Emerson is determined to see the man who raped him, in jail.
Since being ‘kicked out’ of the home as a teenager Emerson has found it very difficult to carve out a ‘normal’ life. He has often been homeless and only recently has he been able to get free of a long term drug addiction. He has been in and out of jail his entire adult life.
‘I know who I am … the police think I’m a very violent individual … the reason I stay stoned is because I’m scared shitless … I don’t enjoy being stoned but I’m alive.
‘Suicide … there’s not a day that doesn’t go by where I ask that sort of [thing] ... I’ve been trying to kill myself for 30 years.’
Emerson has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has had great difficulty establishing and maintaining intimate relationships. He finds it challenging to keep in contact with his siblings, a number of whom were viciously assaulted and sexually abused in the home as well.
‘Do you know what it’s like to put a needle in your arm every day? And that’s what gets you through, gets you through for some fucked up reasons. I don’t live anywhere. I don’t have anything. I’ve got nothing. I’m nothing … It’s not a life.’
He feels very strongly that children going into care need to be supported once they leave.
‘They let you out of the homes and you’re supposed to just go on and be who you’re supposed to be … but … it doesn’t go away, it doesn’t go away … It bleeds into you in there.
‘I was on the streets … that’s what the government did for me. And the funny thing is, once I was on the streets it was all good, you know, because I thought it was over.’
It took Emerson five days to complete his statement to police but he found the officer respectful and keen to follow up his abuser.
‘He wanted to help me … [but] I laugh at your legal system – I just think it’s a joke because I finally stood up and told them the truth but … he’s still out on bail.’
Emerson has received extensive support from Bravehearts and with their help attended the Royal Commission. He understands the link between his years of abuse, his later drug addiction and his ongoing psychological and physical conditions.
‘I’ve got to live my life at some stage … this is the first step, coming here. At least I’ll get to tell you … I also feel like I’ve got to justify my existence. Why I do what I do.’
He is adamant that child abuse needs to be prevented and that there needs to be much more oversight of staff and associated people who work with children.
‘It needs to stop … When you go into a children’s home now, they should never touch you. They’re supposed to look after you … make them do that … because [otherwise] you end up like me. And that’s not a good thing at the best of times.’