Hervey Michael's story

‘If people expect me to be a mewling, self-pitying and perpetually distraught ruin because of the sexual abuse I suffered they will be disappointed. I emphasise that I don’t have to present as a snivelling wreck in order to legitimise my complaint.

‘Maybe the pattern of some people’s lives hasn’t permitted them the chance to come to terms with their sexual abuse, but I have thankfully managed to deal with events that considerably contributed to the deepening criminality in my damaged life ...

‘Already troubled, I certainly didn’t need the aggravation of sexual assault.’

Hervey was in his mid-teens – and his ‘negative, antisocial and illegal behaviour’ had previously got him into trouble a few times – when he was sent to a Salvation Army boys’ home on the outskirts of Melbourne in the 1970s.

There he was raped by one of the officers on two occasions, and another officer raped him once. The men’s manner was ‘intimidating, it was menacing ... it resulted in a shameful capitulation on my part’. Four decades later, the memories of when ‘the sodomites had their way with me’ are ‘still like glowing coals in my mind and heart’.

The ‘tough image and reality I’d so desperately and consistently striven for had received a serious battering’ and his ‘already tenuous self-esteem plummeted, because by the macho benchmark my submission to sexual abuse, without a fight, was the epitome of weakness’.

Hervey was scared of retaliation if he disclosed the abuse to anyone at the home. ‘I didn’t report it when it happened, because who was I going to report it to? I was in an institution in which staff had violated me. If that was the moral calibre of some staff, why couldn’t it also be the moral calibre of others?’

He didn’t expect anyone outside the institution to care either, especially given the status of the Salvation Army in the community. ‘Compare my erstwhile social standing with that of the Salvos, and their glowing reputation would give their denial unimpeachable credibility in the eyes of naive citizens. I’d be deemed a malicious, troublemaking little liar.’

Although his family, who had taken him in as a baby, ‘clothed, fed, housed, and loved me’, he did not think they would assist him with this matter. ‘They weren’t to be relied for supporting me if I made a complaint. I would have been called a liar by my parents.’

The ‘negative, nay, disgusting’ treatment the Salvation Army officers subjected him to contributed to his deterioration ‘mentally, emotionally and behaviourally’. He became depressed and ‘rode a mental and emotional carousel of torment, that ultimately led to futile compensatory criminal and moral behaviours’.

As a teenager and young man Hervey engaged in consensual sexual acts with men as ‘I desperately wanted to normalise the rapes’ but ‘no matter what I did homosexually, the repetition didn’t diminish or remove the aversion towards it that seemed inherent in the deeds.

‘Stupidly I tried to persuade myself that I somehow invited the rapes through unconsciously broadcast signals. That, rather than being violated, I had full control over my body and what I did with it …

‘After my release [from the home] my antisocial and criminal behaviour continued.’ By the time he was 17 he was in adult jail. Convicted of numerous violent offences, he has spent most of his life in custody, and he spoke to the Commissioner from a correctional facility. ‘In hurting other people I experienced temporary alleviation of negative self-judgement and tensions.’

Though he has stood in court to discuss his own offending several times, he has never disclosed the abuse in that context. ‘Having hidden the abuses for years and years, I didn’t want the shame of owning my weakness, fear and cowardice when being abused ... I didn’t want to be seen as pathetic and begging for pity and sympathy.’

At the time of the abuse ‘and for years afterwards’, Hervey ‘didn’t have the knowledge to understand the mechanics of my behaviour and thought-life’. However, ‘over the years I educated myself to a point that enabled me to get insight into the tumultuous degeneration of my life’, and to see how the abuse ultimately impacted on other people in the community too.

‘Salvation Army officers, who represent a religious institution, may have found great pleasure in the subjection and humiliation of a troubled boy, but that momentary act, so to speak, reverberated across time ... Though I can now forgive their violations, and pity them for what they were at the time, it doesn’t erase the ruin they visited on me, and through me, on others.’

During his many years of incarceration he has worked on his personal and spiritual development. ‘I’m lucky that I don’t just have a secular perspective, if that was the case I wouldn’t have anything to live for, and I’d be constantly depressed. I’ve got an interest in spiritual matters, in different religions and philosophies, and metapsychology – things like that. So I have some place other than jail to go and to explore. I’ve got myself.’

Hervey can now place the impact the abuse had on the course of his life.

‘I know from my memory of my life the impact of the sexual assault on me, how it impelled my travel into the deeper and darker regions of criminal life. I know, with the benefit of self-honesty, introspections, education and analysation, how the sexual assault contributed to my ruination, and the tragedy I brought to other people’s lives ...

‘I’m not here whining about my plight, simply showing you what the sexual assault of institutional staff can contribute to. It’s more than a violation of the body, it’s a violation of the mind and heart.’

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