In the mid-1990s Gav and his family immigrated to Australia and settled in suburban Sydney. His parents had separated by the time Gav was six and his mother became his sole parent until she met a new partner. Her boyfriend was often violent and Gav ran away whenever he was hit.
Gav was a very energetic child. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which he believes made him ‘destructive’. In primary school he was often suspended for being disruptive in class. His behaviour caused many problems at home and was stressful for his mother.
In the early 2000s, when he was 10, Gav was expelled from primary school. Shortly after his suspension the Department of Community Services (DOCS) intervened. He remembers his case worker saying that his mother ‘needed a break’ and Gav was then sent to live with a respite carer, Justine.
Gav enjoyed living with Justine; she was kind and taught him how to care for animals. He spent several months with her before being returned to his mother.
The environment at his mother’s house remained violent. Although Gav wanted to be with her he didn’t want to be near her boyfriend. He lashed out and this time around his mother put him into full time state care.
Over the next four years Gav was placed in numerous foster homes, institutions and youth refuges. He attended many different schools but often truanted during the day. He hated being in state care and began absconding from the homes as well, every three to four days, gaining a reputation as a regular ‘escaper’. Many institutions banned him and he lived on the street for a short time.
When he was 14 Gav met his case worker Neville Dover. Dover was an older man who was quite firm with Gav. He was very upset whenever Gav absconded from a home or foster home, and when he didn’t attend school.
‘He took me into a youth refuge. He said to me, “Gav, you’re on your last legs here otherwise you’ll be sent to a boys’ home. You’re such a little shithead I can’t help you anymore”.’
That same night Gav escaped from the refuge and walked a considerable distance away. The police found him and called Dover to come and collect him. Dover was angry with him and the fact he had to collect him so late at night.
‘He sat next to me in the car and he said that I caused him so much grief and that he didn’t get anything in return.’
Dover forced Gav to masturbate him, saying that if he did not do so he would be sent to juvenile detention. Once he had finished, he took Gav to a temporary foster placement for the night and picked him up in the morning. Gav felt very uncomfortable being around Dover and ‘took off’ once Dover asked him to touch him again.
Gav returned home to live with his mother. There were many times he wanted to tell her what happened, but he was too embarrassed.
The sexual abuse changed him and he became angry, violent and even more disobedient at home and school. He questioned his sexuality and often felt emasculated, so started taking steroids and bodybuilding and fighting anyone he could to prove his masculinity. ‘I was misunderstood because no one could work out why I was so angry.’
Gav also began taking other drugs and drinking heavily in his mid-teens and, committing crimes to support his habits. He spent a few years of his late teenage life in juvenile detention before being moved to adult jail, and has spent most of his adult life in custody.
As an adult Gav has struggled with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is on medication to keep him calm and help him sleep, and regularly sees a psychologist. He has reconnected with his family and children, which has helped him to ‘keep going’.
Gav’s first disclosure of the abuse was to the Royal Commission, and he is still extremely embarrassed and angry about what Dover did to him. He feels people ‘never try to understand’ that coping with the effects of being abused is a life-long struggle.
‘You can’t throw a stone in a pond without making any effect, it goes all the way.’