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Gil James's story

‘I suppose I wasn’t the best or easiest kid around, I admit that now, but, yeah, some of the disciplinary techniques by my mother’s partner at the time weren’t suitable – going to school with kettle cord marks down my legs and that, and of course I was made a ward of the state.’

Gil grew up in the 1980s in Melbourne. His early experience of abuse within his home left him both vulnerable to further harm and vulnerable to harming others. In primary school he was sexually abused by older girls in the playground, including one who performed oral sex on him. He thought this behaviour was normal.

At the age of 11, Gil was placed in foster care. While there he sexually assaulted a little girl in the home. He didn’t understand the impact of his actions and was only repeating behaviour done to him. However, he was removed and placed in a government-run boys’ home. He was put in a room of about eight boys ranging up to 16 years old and was abused within his first couple of days there.

‘I woke up in the middle of the night with a group of kids older than me, they were standing around the end of my bed. There was another person at the side of my bed with his penis at my mouth, and yeah, forced or asked to do certain deeds, otherwise the other boys that were at the end of my bed were going to harm me. At the end I was told not to say anything.’

There was a staff member on night duty but he was in the office, and was known as a very hard man who was physically tough on the kids so everyone was scared of him.

Gil never told anyone about the abuse. ‘I’d already had my abuse and stuff at home too, and I didn’t want to get it anymore … It’s something I’ve held onto all these years and I remember the person’s name and everything.’

After his time in that home, he spent periods in other boys’ homes where boys regularly engaged in sexual activity with each other – which he was expected to join in with. He said it left him feeling dirty and confused about what was right and wrong.

‘So it’s been hard growing up, learning about sex, finding out about sex and how to go about it, you know. I’ve had a few relationships. And I’ve questioned my own sexuality so many times.’

During this period he was still a ward of the state, but he didn’t feel safe surrounded by physical and sexual abuse, so he often ran away and eventually ended up living on the streets. He said he didn’t understand at the time, but he was putting himself at great risk and making himself vulnerable to paedophiles who did indeed target him with friendship, kindness and money. He was getting what he needed, surviving, but it was at significant cost.

‘I needed probably a better understanding of what safety was, the potential dangers out there, and the meaning of that potential danger. Okay, you get told there’s paedophiles out there, but you don’t know what they are. You know, it’s just a big word people are using, or people saying there’s bad men out there. How do I know a bad man?’

The abuse left him with problems trusting people and he finds it hard to hold onto friendships.

Gil also had significant problems with drug and alcohol abuse, having been binge drinking since he was 12, and got into a lot of trouble with the police. He spent his 18th birthday in jail and said that’s when he thought, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to do that again’.

When he was in his 20s, he had a big wake-up call. He found out about an incident where the police had called his mother to identify a body they thought was him, only to call back later to say it wasn’t. He said he never wanted to put her through that again and he started to take control of his life.

He went through drug and alcohol counselling and sought out answers as to why his life turned out the way it has. He said talking about it is a lot easier than carrying it around and blaming people.

Gil was in a long-term relationship but his partner died, so now he is a single dad with full custody of their child. The sense of responsibility that comes with caring for a child has helped him deal with a lot of his issues and look towards the future.

‘I’ve had a lot of people in the past who have seen some talent and recognise skills in myself and tried to guide me down the right path, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. I wasn’t given enough of it to believe it. Yeah, I am worth it.’

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