Graeme Philip's story

Graeme ‘was placed under the care and control of the Department of Children’s Services’ in his teens, and lived in a number of placements before ending up in juvenile detention. His siblings were also removed, and sent to different facilities.

It was the early 1970s and Graeme was 14 when he came to the detention centre in regional Queensland. Physical abuse by the staff was common and vicious. He had to use a bucket in his cell as a toilet, and the staff would sometimes throw its contents over him. One time, they broke some of his ribs.

Graeme was also sexually abused by two older boys he shared a cell with, and a guard called Mr Dermott.

It was ‘absolutely’ common knowledge amongst the inmates and staff that Dermott had sexually assaulted many of the inmates. Graeme didn’t see any point in reporting any of the abuse.

From his mid-teens, Graeme’s life revolved around drug use, particularly heroin. ‘Just trying to forget it all. You can’t ... I’ve been addicted to the strongest painkillers man has ever come across, since I was 14-15 years old, to suppress these feelings. And they don’t go away.’

He continued offending, and eventually ended up in adult prison. ‘It starts a revolving door. Because you turn to drugs to suppress your feelings, and it starts a revolving door in prison. And you just become part of the system.’

Graeme currently receives a disability pension on the grounds of his mental and physical health, including addiction issues, anxiety, and major depression. Even when the people treating him for these conditions have asked if he has ever experienced abuse, he has been unable to tell them.

He had a child worker who ‘sort of knew’ what had happened to him, and later came to visit him in jail. She ‘asked the questions a couple of times, but I just didn’t know – did it make me feel less of a man to say it?’

Graeme thinks there needs to be more messages aimed at young boys letting them know it is okay to speak up, and that if this had been clearer he might have sought help earlier. ‘If I knew that by talking up and seeking help at a young age it would have saved me a life of in and out of prisons and whatnot, absolutely.’

He is concerned about the levels of abuse children currently experience in juvenile detention. ‘It’s now 40 years later and it’s still happening. Someone’s got to be held accountable.’

Although Graeme gave a brief statement to the Forde Inquiry, he did not fully disclose his experiences to them. He received $14 000, but was not offered any counselling or other support.

The process of making his application to the inquiry made it difficult for him to talk in detail about what had happened to him. ‘I spent 10 minutes, 15 minutes with a bloke filling out a piece of paper ... They wanted to hear what they wanted to hear, they didn’t dig deep.’ He thinks that if he had been asked directly about sexual abuse he would probably have disclosed it at this time.

Graeme is currently in prison, but would like to spend time doing rehabilitation and counselling once he is released.

After leaving care one of his siblings overdosed, and another suicided. One of his sons was placed in care as a child too, and killed himself afterwards. He has other kids who he doesn’t see too often – they don’t know he was abused, just about his substance addiction.

Graeme told the Commissioner he is largely on his own in the world. His parents ‘haven’t been around’, and he doesn’t really have any friends. ‘You have no friends in a life that involves heroin usage. And you make no friends in jail.’

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