Gavan Hugh's story

Gavan grew up in regional Victoria in the 1950s and 60s. He came from a large family, where he experienced familial sexual abuse, and didn’t have much parental care or supervision. At around 13 he was arrested for a minor offence and sent to a youth detention centre.

After several months there Gavan escaped. When he was brought back he was taken to an adult prison. He was still only 15.

‘They knew I was underage’, he told the Commissioner. His wife, Helen, agreed. ‘He was a local boy. He lived in [the town]. They [the prison wardens] knew his age. They knew his mum. They knew what age he was because they said to you, “What are you doing here?”.’ The warden said he should have been back at the youth training centre.

Gavan was later sent to a maximum security prison which he described as a jungle where it was survival of the fittest. He was then 16. He was raped by four or five adult inmates, something that has always made him embarrassed and ashamed.

He befriended an inmate there, who didn’t harm him, but advised he get tattoos to make him look tougher. Gavan had a ‘baby face’.

After his release Gavan went on to have a family and live his life. But his experiences in prison left their legacy. He found his tattoos were a problem. ‘Now, it’s the fashion … In my day, the police were always pulling you over for no reason. It was bad in them days.’

His education was severely affected and Gavan can’t read or write. Helen said, ‘He thinks he’s not educated now. But I keep telling him there’s so many different forms of education. He is a survivor. He will survive. He is good for the community, he doesn’t see it. But it is a fact’.

More recently he was denied a blue card he needed to do some voluntary work. This was because of his police record even though his charges are now at least 40 years old.

His sister said to him recently, ‘You and Pete [their brother] just caused so much grief in the family because you were so bad’. This was hurtful for Gavan because his brother has served time for child sexual abuse and Gavan felt his sister was treating their crimes equally. Helen thinks that is what compelled Gavan to come to the Royal Commission.

‘I think he’s trying to yell to the world, “I wasn’t that bad. I really, I wasn’t” … He never hurt, physically, wouldn’t hurt anyone … It’s a kid on the wrong tracks. Not being able to go home. Not having anyone to support him. I mean, I can see that. And not having any help out there.’ For the crimes he committed as a kid, Helen feels ‘he’s paid the price 50 million times’.

Gavan experienced all forms of abuse in his childhood. ‘All of them are bad. It’s the sexual assault bit is the worst bit you’ve got to live with.’

He reflected on what has kept him going. ‘I don’t know. Just a strong person I suppose.’ He also acknowledged his wife as a support in his life and ‘My grandkids keep me going’.

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