Harrison John's story

‘Why would an 11-year-old kid make up that kind of stuff? They just don’t.’

Life at home was tough for Harrison’s mother; she was raising several children on her own while working full time. In the early 1970s when Harrison was 11, he and his brother began wagging school. They were caught by the police several times and were then sent away to a state-run boys’ home in a suburb of Brisbane.

Harrison stayed at the home for several months and disliked every minute, he told the Commissioner. He was physically punished by staff and sexually abused as well, by the warden of the institution, Mr Penfold.

Penfold sexually abused Harrison every night. He remembers Penfold coming into the shower with him and fondling him. He was also forced to masturbate Penfold. He knew it was wrong, but Penfold was a scary man and he didn’t want him to hit him. Harrison said nothing about what was happening.

After an extended period of time, it all became too much for Harrison. He tried to tell one of the other workers, Mr Georges, but he was told to go away and to stop telling lies. Harrison called his mother and told her of the abuse a couple of days later. She then complained to Georges, who laughed at her and said the exact same thing: her son was lying.

‘She said, “Why wouldn’t I believe my own son?” But nothing was done.’

Harrison and his brother ‘jumped the fence’ and ran away just days after his disclosure. When they were caught by police, they told them what had happened at the boys’ home. Harrison and his brother were then returned to their mother’s home and they remained there after that.

In the mid-1970s when he was 13, Harrison was sexually abused by a doctor. He visited the doctor for a check-up and the doctor touched him. Harrison threw the doctor’s hand away and yelled, which he believes scared him. He also told the other workers about the doctor.

‘I actually made a complaint to the hospital and they done nothing, didn’t want to know about it.’

Throughout his teenage years and adulthood, Harrison found it hard to trust those in authority. He can’t help but think of Mr Georges and the way he lied to his mother about the abuse. Harrison found it difficult to be confident and would often chew his nails right down when he was nervous.

Harrison described himself as an over-protective father. There wasn’t a day when he didn’t pick up his children from school or drop them off personally, which confused and annoyed his kids. Harrison couldn’t bear the thought of someone touching his children or any child.

Harrison didn’t disclose the details of his abuse again for more than two decades. He first told his wife when he was in his mid-30s, which was a relief. In the late 1990s, Harrison applied for redress and received $7,000 which he said wasn’t enough. At the time he and his family couldn’t afford to take further action.

Harrison always looks out for other children and automatically supports those who have been abused. He has worked with children for many years and has been constantly on guard to protect them. It saddens him to think that some victims from the boys’ home have taken their own lives.

‘If more people took more notice of 11- or 12-year-old kids [back then] they might be alive today … There could have been more done about kids that age … If [perpetrators] were doing that today they’d be sacked on the spot. Back then that didn’t happen.’

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