Ernest was born with ‘a slight case of cerebral palsy’. When he went to school in the 1960s, he was put in a ‘special’ class in a mainstream school. Ernest and the other children in his class were ‘shunned’ by ‘the rest of the school’.
‘In the recesses and lunch breaks … you’re learning about life and getting on with people. We didn’t have [the] opportunity to do that … you want to be accepted … it made me vulnerable for someone else.’
He now has perspective on his education too. ‘Every kid had to be sent to school but that didn’t mean that every kid had to be taught … [the class] was like a day centre.’
When Ernest was about 15 years old, his parents wanted him to find regular employment but Ernest wasn’t confident he would be able to cope in the workforce. He got a job in a sheltered workshop.
‘I was quite happy there because it was the kind of people I grew up with at school. There was no outsiders. It was just one setting.’
His parents decided to move away but ‘they thought it might be better if I stayed … attending the sheltered workshop’ and when he was about 16, he moved into the YMCA hostel. Ernest’s family were Catholic so the YMCA, a Christian organisation, was seen as a good fit.
He settled into his routine of going to work and coming home to his room in the hostel. He ‘got on with some of the people [at the hostel] but I kept to myself a lot’. The hostel was busy and there were many parties but Ernest didn’t join in.
One night when he arrived home from work there was a party in the kitchen.
‘This particular occasion I attended this function … I was only there for about 20 minutes and someone offered me a drink … I just passed out.’
Ernest woke up to find that he was being carried up the stairs by a man he didn’t know. The man took Ernest to his own room. Ernest was terrified to realise he was immobilised.
‘I couldn’t do anything. I was like a golliwog. I wanted to do something but I couldn’t … He opened the door and lay me on [the bed] … he started stripping me … after he stripped me he laid on top of me.’
The man sexually abused Ernest. ‘I could see what he was doing but I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t push him off me.’
Ernest passed out again. ‘The next morning I woke up to find him laying next to me.’ Ernest demanded to know his name but the man ‘took off out the door’. Ernest realised that the door of the room had been ‘wide open to the hallway so that people could see that we were in bed together’. He ‘didn’t feel the same after that’.
About a week later Ernest went to the police to ‘just mention it’ but they asked him to make a formal statement and, at the time, he didn’t want to do that. He also told his parents but his father ‘got embarrassed’ and his mother ‘dismissed it’ saying, ‘Eighty percent of boys usually have something done to them’.
He didn’t report it to the YMCA because he ‘didn’t want to be thrown out … onto the street … and I guess I felt that I wouldn’t be believed’.
‘From that time on I had bad sleeps and dreams … Because my eyes were completely open and my mind could see what was happening, every time I have an orgasm and fantasise … I just seem to be reliving it and reliving it and reliving it.’
Ernest was also aware that his disability meant people treated him differently. ‘In those days you couldn’t talk about [sexual abuse] because of the slur it might bring upon yourself … [and] … I was kind of frightened, I guess, that I might magnify my disability. I didn’t want to be [noticed].’
After the abuse Ernest began to question his sexuality. ‘I was awfully confused with my identity.’
Since then, he has had few intimate relationships and just a handful of friends.
‘I try to keep to myself as much as possible. I had to weigh up whether it was meeting friends or getting hurt … sometimes you get to know people … some of them were real terrible.’
He knows he might be exploited again.
‘I’m very vulnerable. I speak to strangers just for company … Had I not gone through the school I had … I would have been more prepared to handle life … In my day it was never talked about, grooming and “ripe for the picking”. Those have just come out recently … They groom you to get you ripe for the picking. They know … you don’t understand it.’
Ernest’s mental health and confidence have been significantly impacted by the abuse. He has periods of deep depression and bouts of extreme anxiety.
‘There were some times when I would never leave the room in the YMCA because of this terrible fear. And the fear of waking up the next morning with my door wide open and they’re all going to know what’s happened … Sometimes it gets so bad, I really can’t take it anymore. So, I either drink too much or I overdose … because I just think of myself as a filthy human being.’
Ernest has seen many counsellors but now has little time for them.
‘When I went to one counselling session … all they told me to do was buy copies of Playboy. And I said, that’s not going to deal with this situation … I said to another counsellor, I said, “Could you direct me to a counsellor who’s in practice who it has happened to?” They couldn’t do it.’
He believes that the counsellors were simply applying theory. ‘There was a point in the counselling session where I thought, “This was just extracts [of] theory”. They’re just counselling me to what they learnt at uni – they’re not healing people.’
Ernest believes that he has coped by keeping busy. ‘The only way I’ve … managed to cope was get interested in different things for the sake of not thinking about it. Because it’s like going down a wormhole, a never ending decreasing circle, because it just gobbles you up after a while.’
He still has extremely vivid flashbacks to the abuse.
‘It’s like a re-run, a continuous re-run of what happened. This person saying, “How are you enjoying it? Are you liking it?” And I’m not able to respond or nothing. Maybe if I wasn’t conscious it wouldn’t have been so bad because I wouldn’t have remembered. But the enjoyment, the look on his face – it was horrible. I was not enjoying it and he was having a good old time.’
One of Ernest’s main concerns is growing older and which memories he might be left with. ‘I used to work for aged care … the things that usually happen to you at the early time of your childhood are the last things to go [from your memory]’.
He is now on the disability pension full time and has a very good friend who supports him every day.
‘I pray a lot. I’ve kept my faith. This is how I look at it, I used to blame God but when you realise it, God’s not done anything, it’s man that’s done it all.’