Julian John's story

As a child growing up in the Northern Territory in the 1980s, Julian loved to dance. When his single-parent mum told him and his siblings that they were packing up and moving to Sydney, Julian was beside himself. ‘I was 11 years old at the time, and I didn’t want to go.’ He didn’t want to leave his dance classes and his teacher, or his life where he was ‘all set up’.

But the family moved anyway, and settled in an outer suburb of Sydney. Dance remained a passion for Julian and he continued his lessons. In the early 1990s he started Year 7 at his local government high school, and talked to one of his new friends about dancing. ‘That’s where my life started going downhill.’ He quickly found himself the target of playground bullying - ‘getting called a faggot, a poof’ – and getting into fights when he tried to defend himself. His mother told him it was only words – ‘But they weren’t, you know.’

Before long Julian gave up dance. He got into some bad company and started wagging school. One day he got caught smoking pot. His mother didn’t know what to do, and turned to the Department of Community Services (DOCS) for help. Julian was appointed a caseworker, Beryl, who he really liked. ‘She was really cool. She was so nice – she was kind, compassionate, understanding … I always felt like I could tell her anything, you know.’ But after some months Beryl moved on to another job, and Julian got a new caseworker, Alan.

Alan was a ‘fucking mongrel’, Julian said. ‘This guy was just – in my eyes he was just evil.’

One thing led to another pretty quickly. Julian would run away from Alan, and not come home. Alan persuaded Julian’s mother to make him a ward of the state. One day when Julian returned home after several nights at a mate’s place, Alan turned up with a police officer. They took Julian to a youth residential facility. To this day Julian doesn’t understand how that happened.

‘I wasn’t a naughty kid. I just made a couple of wrong choices in life, at that stage. I wasn’t hurting anyone.’

Julian was 13 at the time. He found himself in some tough company. ‘It scared the shit out of me, just going there’, he said.

‘I’d never been incarcerated before. And [the facility] was like the pre-school, so to speak, for lack of better words, of the general detention centre …

‘All these kids were delinquents … They were real delinquents that needed to be taken care of by the right authorities. So they scared me.’

He made one friend, Angus. They watched television together in the rec room. But there was something odd about Angus. He flinched if you got too close. Julian thought perhaps he’d been beaten up.

As a new arrival, Julian had a bed in a small room close to the officer’s observation desk, apart from the general dormitory. One night he went to bed and sobbed. He was desperately homesick. The officer on duty came and sat on his bed.

‘He goes “Just stop crying”. I told him, “I can’t” … He goes “It’ll all be all right. Everything’ll all be all right”. I’m saying “I haven’t done anything wrong” - he started running his fingers through me hair … And just him running his fingers through me hair, it sort of calmed me down.’

The officer started to rub Julian’s shoulders, his back – ‘Alarm bells started going off.’

The touching continued. The officer digitally penetrated Julian, and performed oral sex on him. Julian hadn’t had any sexual experiences before. ‘I didn’t know what was going on … I didn’t know what to do. I just froze. I didn’t know what the fuck to do.’

Eventually the officer ‘just stopped. Got up, told me to put my pants on. He goes “I’ll see you tomorrow morning”. I just lay there for the rest of the night’.

The officer sexually assaulted Julian the following and successive nights. ‘Second time it happened I started understanding why my friend Angus was the way he was.’ At one point Julian nearly spoke to Angus about the assaults: ‘It was as if I knew that he knew and he knew that I knew, and I wanted to say something but I didn’t know who to speak to, at all.’ He wanted to call his mother, but was told that no contact was permitted.

‘That bit where they said you can’t speak to your mum – like I thought basically, well, I got no rights here whatsoever.’

Julian was released after several weeks. Alan was still his caseworker. A series of placements in youth detention centres followed. By the time he was 15 or 16 he was committing minor crimes such as shoplifting and been incarcerated in four different facilities. He spent a few months in the last one – ‘That’s when I started getting really accustomed to jail.’ At one point he tried to return home to his family, but his mother wouldn’t let him in. ‘She slammed the door in my face. That’s when I thought fuck it. What’s the point anymore?’

Julian was in jail when he spoke to the Commissioner. He has spent much of his adult life there. He had not spoken of his abuse before, except to a cellmate some years ago, who had also been abused. ‘Finally I’d met someone that had that in common, he knew how I felt.’ He had not reported his abuse to police, but after speaking to the Commissioner decided to do so. He also felt ready to seek counselling.

In his time in jail he’d seen sex offenders treated too well, he said. He wanted to see paedophiles dealt with more severely within the prison system, and harsher penalties introduced.

‘If you can get an erection over a child under the age, you’re broken. There’s no coming back. You need to be castrated or just put to death.’

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