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Francis Peter's story

‘What the police and people have done over the years, is taught me to be a bad person ... I’m not like that, but it’s turned me into that.’

Francis’s mother was very sick when he was little. He was placed in a dormitory in northern Queensland in the late 1950s, shortly after he was born. He was then looked after by other people who lived in the area.

Francis was around 11 the first time he was sexually abused by a local police officer, James Durham. Like Francis, Durham was Aboriginal, and Francis believes him to be homosexual. Durham would drive around the streets, and order Francis to get in the car with him.

He would use his authority to frighten Francis, at one point taking him to the jailhouse and saying he would end up in there. ‘Well, he pulled my private out and started playing with it, and sucking it and all that.’

Francis would run away from Durham, and ‘he’d race around at night, or day, trying to find me’. Durham seemed to have ‘some fascination with me, or something, because he used to watch me quite a lot’.

Francis remembers, ‘I never thought much about it, because I was just a kid ... And that went on for a few years’. He never told anyone what Durham was doing to him.

In the mid-1970s Francis broke into a shop and was placed in a juvenile detention centre for four months. Some of the older inmates would try to engage him in sexual activity.

‘You still had the bullies that would give you the wolf-whistle and all that.’ He would tell them, ‘“You can have a fight if you want to, but I’m no bloody girl or anything” ... And they’re grabbing me on my arse and all that kind of stuff.’

The wardens saw these interactions but did not intervene. Francis did not have any privacy, and the guards would watch him while he was naked after showers – ‘that’s real humiliating’. The wardens also discriminated against the Aboriginal children.

The white kids would get to do the easier work in the kitchens, while the Aboriginal kids were forced to do the more strenuous work in the dairy. Francis was punched by the man who ran the dairy on his first day there. ‘I’d never milked a cow in my life, but I soon learned.’

Francis was 17 when he stole a car and was sent to an adult correctional centre in far north Queensland, which had a unit for juvenile offenders. ‘I think the white boys, they did have a unit for them. But we were chucked in mainstream [with the adults].’

He had to band together with other boys his age to avoid being sexually assaulted by adult inmates, as ‘someone wanted to poke you in the arse all the time’.

Francis encountered Durham again in jail. ‘He wasn’t a policeman anymore. He was a prisoner ... He remembered me straight away.’

Shortly after Durham arrived at the prison he sexually assaulted Francis. ‘I woke up at two or three in the morning with a burning sensation ... Here he is, sucking me off while I’m asleep.’ Francis kicked him off the bed. He has never reported Durham to authorities.

Later on in life, Francis was convicted of a violent attack against a relative, and also sex offences relating to a teenage girl. He told the Royal Commission that he lived with this girl for a number of years and also had a child with her.

Whilst Francis was in prison he was put through a sex offenders course, but was not offered any counselling to address his other personal issues. Looking at his childhood experiences has helped Francis understand some of his own behaviour. ‘When I look at it and I see no one doing anything to help me ... I come into a life, it’s okay to do these things because they never got charged with it.’

Under his parole conditions he is monitored everywhere he goes, which impacts on his capacity to have a relationship or job, and to interact with family and friends. He thinks that this monitoring is unjust compared to the repercussions people who have money or privilege receive for similar offences.

Painting has helped Francis ‘tell a story of my footsteps’, and he has had some commercial success with his artwork. Francis has had problems with alcohol in the past but has now stopped drinking. He keeps to himself and tries to see the things he has gone through as learning experiences.

Recently, Francis told his sister he had been sexually abused when he was younger. He couldn’t tell anyone before, because of feeling ‘it’s shameful’. Francis is now receiving assistance from a support organisation who are also helping him obtain his records under freedom of information legislation.

Francis went through a state government redress scheme and received two small payments. He was not represented by a lawyer during this process and thinks the amount he received is small compared to that which other survivors were granted. He feels that monetary compensation ‘it’s not really saying sorry, it’s saying shut up ... But that’s all we can take, because we’re not going to get anything better out of it’.

‘I’m sick of that word sorry, it means nothing ... I just hate people saying sorry to me because I know it means nothing ... And I’m sorry that justice comes down to money.’

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