‘My mother had just died of a heroin overdose … my family had rejected me.’
At 15 in the mid-1980s Forrest lost his mother. His father had died years before and Forrest had been living with his grandparents. He believes he was not well liked by his family, as he’d been born with a gastro-intestinal problem which left him struggling with incontinence into his teens.
‘My grandmother used to yell and scream at me that I smelled like a public toilet’, Forrest told the Commissioner.
He was sent to live at an adolescent refuge run by the Uniting Church in Sydney’s west. He lived there for over a year and was bullied by staff and other residents and sexually abused by one of the older supervisors.
‘I came to be called “the problem” and any put-downs, bashing or taunting was ignored if directed at me, but I was pummelled and punished with great severity by staff if I dare to defend myself.’
Forrest remembers a staff member named Sean Hogarth who was physically and emotionally abusive, telling him his health problems were ‘all in his head’. Hogarth was in his early 20s, not much older than the boys he was supposed to be caring for. Forrest believes he was not old enough to be in that kind of work.
Another supervisor, Greg Donald, used doubt about Forrest’s condition as an excuse to watch him while he showered. ‘I had to turn my back and he’d go like that and I’d have to turn more to make sure he couldn’t see.’ This happened three times.
Forrest tried to disclose the abuse to his grandfather when he left the home. ‘I told him, “Bad things happened to me, Grandad” … He sort of brushed it aside.’
Forrest needed dozens of operations to fix his health problems. He worked in various jobs, but the operations eventually made it impossible for him to lift heavy objects and he is now on a disability pension. He also takes anti-depressants.
Forrest also blames the abuse he suffered for a drinking problem he developed, though he has now given up alcohol. He still smokes marijuana to help relieve pain.
‘But I stay away from the harder drugs. I watched Mum do that.’
He is estranged from his family, who he has not been able to forgive for placing him in care while the loss of his mother was still so raw.
Forrest hopes the work of the Royal Commission will prevent children in the future suffering at the hands of poorly trained and uncaring staff in adolescent support services. He has not considered approaching the Uniting Church for compensation.
‘They’ll say, “Prove it”, and I won’t be able to.’