‘We’re still dealing with institutionalised abuse. It hasn’t stopped in 40 years. We’ve got more vocal about it, we’ve got to a point where it’s no longer acceptable, but we don’t stop it. And I’m hoping that if enough of us tell our stories of what happened then the Commission can get some idea of how these things happen, why they happen and have recommendations that will make that not happen in the future. So I am here to stop young people getting what I went through.’
After his mother died and his father remarried, Gerry was separated from his stepbrothers and sisters and locked up for long periods of time at home, rarely attending school. Whenever there was a hint of intervention by education or welfare authorities, his father and stepmother moved the family on and in the first 14 years of his life, Gerry lived at nine different addresses.
In the late 1960s, a teacher at a new school noticed how underweight Gerry was and reported him to Victorian welfare staff. Gerry was subsequently removed from the family home and made a ward of the state. He spent a short time in a government-run reception centre where having ‘regular food was unreal’, and after this he was placed in a Methodist boys’ home.
Gerry told the Commissioner that he was sexually assaulted at the home within a week of arrival. ‘The bloke in charge – and don’t ask me his name because I can’t remember that detail – was the one that supervised us, and he was the one that first abused me. He had – again, this is a hindsight thing – but he had a fetish for dressing boys up in female clothing … He would start off that this was clothing that had been donated to the Methodist whatever, and it needed to be checked that it was okay before passing it on.
‘If you did not do as he said, you then had to stand at the end of the corridor and he would come up and physically punch you until such time as you agreed to do what he said. And it was a very short process to genitals – his genitals. He didn’t touch mine. And then finally within the first week, anal rape. Well, you didn’t know what was happening. Like it just, as a 14-year-old I was very naive.’
As a result of the abuse, Gerry absconded and began living on the streets, exchanging sex for food and shelter. He was picked up by Victoria Police for shoplifting and returned to the government-run reception centre.
During this second placement at the centre, Gerry fought off an attempt by an older boy to sexually assault him. He reported the attack to staff, and at the same time, disclosed the abuse that had previously occurred at the boys’ home.
‘The decision of the staff was that the only reason that this abuse happened is because I had homosexual tendencies and I needed to be “cured”.
‘I was then escorted to [a hospital] where I was placed in a chair with electrodes and subject to a slide show of naked men and half-naked women. And in theory, you get a really massive jolt. The amount of time I had actually been literally falling out of the chair, and you would endure that for 45 minutes roughly, with the slide show that was going constantly. It would change. The doctor and everything’s names have all been blacked out under Freedom [of Information], so I don’t know who he was.’
Gerry said word got round the centre that he was homosexual and soon afterwards he was sexually assaulted by a group of older boys. ‘Pack rape, as they called it, where you would have four or five boys holding you down, taking turns, both oral and anal …
‘Of course, every time I went back to the hospital and they asked, you know, have I had any sex? “Yes, I have been abused”. “Oh well, we need to up your dosage of electricity”, all that sort of crap.’
Gerry found himself constantly fighting and at one stage he attempted to take his own life but was found by another boy. ‘His comment to me made a big difference. He said, “Look, I’m going to walk away from this. If you want to die that’s up to you, but I wouldn’t let the bastards win”. That’s what he said.’
In 1970, Gerry was moved to a Church of England home where he remained with kind house parents for three years until he turned 18. He disclosed the abuse to them and although sympathetic, they didn’t take any further action. ‘I had no expectation that anything would ever be done about it’, Gerry said. ‘It was just – I knew it was wrong by this stage, well and truly. But also powerless to do anything with it.’
Gerry told the Commissioner that he became very violent in his adolescence. ‘Gay bashing was something I took on with others, much to my now regret … And even nowadays I am still passive aggressive. I don’t use violence anymore. … I remember making that decision in my 20s.’
Over the following decades, Gerry got married but described his ability to be ‘intimate with people’ as ‘extremely limited’. He worked in the community services sector and had a daughter despite his fears about having children.
‘I didn’t want kids because I was absolutely petrified that I would treat my kids the way I was treated, because that’s what we were told would happen: it was generational and you learnt the learned behaviour; you rolled with it.’
Memories of the abuse resurfaced when he accessed his welfare file in the mid-2000s. In addition to notes confirming the sexual abuse, his file included a statement that he ‘enjoyed women’s clothing’ as well as a fabricated admission that he’d agreed to treatment in order to ‘be cured’.
‘I probably only had to read a paragraph when everything just came back. And it really was suppressed. I can’t believe how those memories came back. It was, yeah, devastating is a good word. I think my whole world just fell out from underneath me.’
A few years later Gerry approached the Uniting Church to tell them about the sexual abuse. ‘Something dawned on me that this person can still be there in the system and I’ve done nothing about it. I haven’t stopped him.’
During the process, Gerry found out that the man had died. He was impressed by the initial support offered by Uniting Church staff, but he said things changed when he spoke to their lawyers about compensation and requested an apology. He thought the $16,000 he received inadequate and the apology letter disappointing. ‘The closest I ever got to an apology was a letter that he gave me which says, “I’m sorry that it happened”, without acknowledging that it happened.’
Gerry told the Commissioner he’d worried about coming forward to tell his story, but was glad he had. ‘Now I’ve done it I’m actually feeling quite relaxed, believe it or not. I came in here feeling guilt, sick and kind of nervous and shaky but now I’m actually feeling content. And I will say a part of it is because I believe you listened ….I felt like I’d been listened to. And that makes a difference.’
‘I believe that what I have said is a piece of a jigsaw that you’re going to put together. And eventually you will get a picture and hopefully out of that picture we’ll get less kids abused in the system.’