Hugh grew up in a small town in Victoria in the 1980s. The family were poor and his father, a Vietnam War veteran and heavy drinker, was cruel. Hugh was often singled out for physical and emotional punishment, especially when he started defending his mother against his father’s violence.
Hugh admits that he was a naughty and rebellious boy, and it reached the point where no state primary school would take him. Community services got involved and he ended up in children’s court where he received a protection and care order. His caseworker asked if he wanted to go to a children’s home until he went back to court. Hugh said he didn’t care.
He was driven there by the caseworker along with his mother, who was very upset, and his father. Hugh was 10. ‘I was putting on this big, tough, brave front as a kid. And it was a nightmare.’
He was terribly homesick. On the third night, he asked a staff member if he could go home. He doesn’t know the man’s name. ‘And they come and got me out of the room and the young kid that I was with said “No, no. Stay here, don’t go”.’
But Hugh went into the office with the man because he thought he was going home. He asked if he could ring his mother. He was told he could, but only if he did certain things first. Hugh had to take off his pants and sit in the man’s lap. He longed to pick up the phone, which was right there.
The staff member made Hugh stand on a chair. ‘And he stood up and he just kept masturbating himself.’ Hugh was sexually assaulted but was so fixated about calling his mother that he didn’t care. He thought, ‘If I go through this, then I can call me mum and go home’.
He was sexually abused again, this time in his room because he refused to be taken to the office. Hugh was promised one of the special blankets that were prized by the boys for his bed, ‘but I just wanted to go home. I was scared out of me mind’.
Hugh figured out a way to convince staff that he was ill and got a week’s reprieve in hospital. When his parents came to visit, he told his mother what had happened and pleaded to go home. She told his father, who didn’t believe the story.
‘Dad just fucking walked out – “I don’t believe it. It’s bullshit”.’
So he was taken back to the home. The staff member who had abused him kept trying to touch him and tell him how he was different from the other boys.
Hugh spent as much time as he could in the school building to avoid him. After a few weeks he went back to court and was returned to his mother’s care.
Hugh told his care worker about the abuse. She said she’d look into it but, as far as he knows, nothing came of it.
Hugh kept on being disruptive and bounced around a few schools before leaving altogether in Year 9 after he was asked not to come back. Counsellors were always trying to figure out what made him act the way he did, he said. He was told he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was given medication, which he stopped taking.
When he was 16, Hugh stopped acting out and ‘the tantrums stopped’. He started smoking marijuana, which suppressed his anger and moods. He found work and started to settle a bit.
A major impact of the sexual abuse for Hugh has been extreme difficulty in forming male connections. His marriage broke down and he is currently in jail. Undergoing counselling inside has been ‘a blessing in disguise’. He had refused to get help from anyone before that, even when he started getting suicidal thoughts. Now he is quite reflective and can see things clearly.
However, he can never really lock away the bad memories. ‘It’s always in the back of my mind and some nights I do think about it, yeah.’
Hugh believes there’ll always be predators out there and that they’ll always get through the barriers somehow. So we should tell young children, ‘Don’t be ashamed to speak up or talk about it’.