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Jamie Dennis's story

‘My story starts in late primary school. It was my [school] principal. I was a problem child … The more I was getting in trouble, the more I had to stay behind. We didn’t have the cane. We had the paddle board. One afternoon I was supposed to be home by four. I was stuck there till after six.’

In the early 1990s and in Year 5 at a government-run primary school, Jamie was kept behind after school nearly every second day. The sexual abuse by Mr Beecham, the school principal, started with personal questions and touching, and progressed to the teacher fondling his genitals. It continued for about 18 months until one day Jamie mentioned it to his mother.

‘I brought it up weirdly’, he said. ‘And asked her was it okay in relation to the hand grabbing. She didn’t say anything. She had to walk out of the room.’

A year or so earlier the boyfriend of Jamie’s mother had been imprisoned for child sex offences against Jamie. His mother’s response this time was to take Jamie to New South Wales Police to make a formal report and statement. However Jamie disclosed only a small amount of what had been happening and on that basis police hadn’t proceeded with charging Beecham.

Beecham continued as principal and Jamie missed the remaining few weeks of school. The following year he moved to high school and was alarmed to find Beecham’s brother as his teacher. ‘I was summoned to his office and the same sort of thing happened, but I was able to leave until the next day when it was both of them. I got cornered by them.’

A neighbour who happened to be passing the room asked the two men what they were doing. ‘She knew straightaway. She took me home then the police got called.’ Beecham was this time charged with child sex offences but he beat the charges, Jamie said, ‘on some technicality’. Beecham’s brother was never charged and he moved out of the area.

Jamie told the Commissioner that following Beecham’s appearance in court, more children came forward with allegations of sexual abuse against him. Further charges were laid, but before the matter progressed, Beecham died from a heart attack.

The NSW Department of Education offered financial assistance for Jamie to complete his schooling elsewhere, but the offer wasn’t taken up. ‘There was no apology, more a handout. It was just basically them throwing us another area to go to, which they were responsible for anyway.’

When Jamie was 16, his mother died suddenly and he saw his best friend murdered in a fight at the beach. From then on everything went ‘haywire’. He left school and started stealing and using drugs, getting caught and soon moving from the juvenile justice system into adult prisons. At 18, he was gang raped by four men with whom he shared a cell. The men were charged and had their prison terms extended, and Jamie was put into protective custody.

In the intervening years he’d spent extended periods in jail, committing further offences or breaching his parole during brief periods of freedom. Speaking to the Commissioner during his latest incarceration, he said that only recently had he acknowledged the events of his childhood.

‘It’s only now I suppose that I’ve started in this jail, especially seeing the chaplain here and talking to the counsellors that we’ve sort of started to break the core of the offending cycle, and why I’m constantly doing this or doing that. It’s more of an escape valve because I’ve never had to bring [the sexual abuse] up. I’ve always put it aside.’

Being in protective custody had its own problems, including that men often found themselves in the same jail as those who’d sexually abused them. The growing prison population also brought its own problems.

‘Now with the smoking gone it’s 10 times worse. There’s fights every day. They try to say they take all your past if they know it into consideration. If you’re not a sex offender, you’re a C2, “We’ll classo you to Long Bay”. But they don’t take into consideration they have the sex offenders program there and most of them are in minimum security waiting to go into the program.’

Ten months into his current sentence, Jamie said he was still waiting to see a psychologist. ‘Everybody’s done the referral but I haven’t seen them on one rotation. So the chaplain’s the only one I’ve got. I’ve got six months to go and I want to get ready. … I run around now with a mask on, pretend [the sexual abuse] isn’t there. I think I’ve lost that heart to even grieve on it. It’s just like it’s there, but it’s dead in the water. I can’t grieve or express it to the level I want. It’s just a story now.’

While his experience in reporting Beecham hadn’t given him confidence, he hoped the system had improved since.

‘Things are slowly changing but they need to jump on, action [an allegation] the minute it’s mentioned. It always starts as something small. Sometimes you ring up the Kids Line and they say, “We’ll make a note of that”. I think everything needs to be looked at straightaway because if they leave it it’s only going to get worse. I couldn’t believe the office staff didn’t question why is he staying back and we are about to leave. That’s the thing I never understood.’

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