George Terry's story

George had a very unstable childhood. His family migrated to Australia when he was a toddler and other relatives soon followed. Their lives were difficult and after a significant family tragedy, the family returned to their home country. A short time later, though, after experiencing further challenges, the family returned and settled in Victoria.

‘I don’t know what it was – maybe it was the moving around and all that … they had two other kids to look after as well and they were trying to make a go of it.

‘I started getting into minor trouble and it seemed to get me attention, you know. So, I started … playing up and being a bit rebellious because it probably didn’t matter what sort of attention I was getting, I was getting attention.’

In the 1970s, when George was about nine years old, he was deemed ‘uncontrollable’ and made a ward of the state. He was placed in a government-run juvenile justice centre where he stayed for about three years.

When he was first admitted to the centre he went through the administrative process and had to undergo a medical examination.

‘That was the first time that I was put in that situation of someone touching me … I was young and I just thought this is what they did. Now I know it wasn’t.’

George was distressed and felt isolated and alone after this experience. He found the centre intimidating.

‘It was frightening. It was a strange place … I was away from my parents and my [siblings] and it was really unsettling.’

Throughout his time in the centre George was routinely sexually abused by a number of the staff.

‘Different officers would come in at night and they’d take you in the office and make you touch them and things like that, and they’d touch you …

‘A couple of times there was different boys together … and even sometimes they’d make us touch each other … and they’d sit and watch.’

George used to abscond to get some respite. When he was returned he was put in a lock-up section with no access to a toilet. When he yelled out to use the toilet, he would be ignored. On one occasion, he soiled his pants and was thrashed for doing so.

‘I kept running away … Once I moved down to that lock-up section, that’s when some of the men there would say … “If you were to tell anyone what has happened no one will believe you. You’re here because no one wants you. Your parents don’t want you … no one’s going to believe what you say”.’

George believes that other staff knew about the sexual abuse and did nothing.

‘Don’t get me wrong, there were some good officers … [but] in the end … you couldn’t trust any of them.’

George was placed in a less secure facility towards the end of his time in detention and was then released back to his parents’ care. He didn’t think he could tell them about the abuse.

‘Because I was home I didn’t want to jeopardise anything. As they told us, “No one’s going to believe a little shit like you – you’re here because your parents don’t want you”. And then when I finally did get home, I didn’t want to bring it up again.’

George began sniffing glue and progressed to other drugs.

‘I tried to cover it up. And I didn’t like to talk about it or speak about it … From the ages of 14 and 15 I sniffed glue for ages and I just moved up the ladder … I always seemed to meet the people who were on the same path as me … With the drugs it seemed to deaden that feeling.’

The impact of the abuse has been significant.

‘I suffer from [low] self-esteem, I’ve tried to commit suicide a couple of times, I suffer from depression and anxiety … It’s done a lot of damage. And not only to me, to my family as well … I’m just the black sheep.’

He had never told anyone about his sexual abuse until five years ago. He was in jail and had to undergo a psychiatric assessment.

‘I don’t know what it was … he just asked me what my life was like and I dead set just started crying. And it sort of come out then.’

He has recently told his parents about the abuse and his wife and daughter now know as well. This has helped his relationship with them.

‘I can share with them what I’m going through.’

He hasn’t sought compensation from the state and is thinking about pursuing his abusers, who could still be alive, through the criminal justice system. He hadn’t reported the men before because he feels great shame.

‘Even now I still feel, and I know I shouldn’t, but I still feel really ashamed. And I’m embarrassed … [I feel] that it’s our fault that it happened … [but I know] we had no control over it. We were threatened.’

George wants to remain on the outside when his current sentence finishes.

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