‘Don’t think it’s about just compensating me and giving me money and I’ll go away. It don’t work like that … I want my story to be made clear and give you information on what I think will benefit the younger generation who is coming up and finding themselves in institutions and going through this abuse.’
In the late 1990s, Karl was in his mid-teens when he was sent to a government-run juvenile detention centre in the Northern Territory.
‘I was caught up in a group of elder males and just tried to fit in basically. I was more of a bush boy who grew up … outback and just went to school in the town … so I misled myself by doing it [the crime].’
The centre was a violent place. ‘Mistreatment … physical assault. Manhandled roughly and along with everything else that went with it. I would say the facility was poorly run … Getting picked up off the ground by your throat, dragged down the back carried by your shorts.’
He was routinely sexually abused by male guards in his cell.
‘Random visits in the room in the middle of the night … Sitting on the bed and getting us to play with their penises and stuff like that.’
The sexual abuse included rape.
‘I was young. I wasn’t familiar with that sort of treatment … you shouldn’t put anyone through that … sticking fingers in their anus, trying to get you to suck their penises.
‘I wouldn’t say I was the only one … one hung himself and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same treatment that I had.’
Soon after being released he was placed back in the centre for a further sentence and the physical and sexual abuse continued.
Karl went to adult prison when he was 17 and has spent most of his life since in jail, spending only a few months on the outside.
‘Life is all good for me [outside] and then I feel a sense of not belonging. I’ve been through a lot on my journey and this here [sexual abuse] is one of the main contributors to my mental state of mind so I resort back to that [drugs].
‘It’s something that has never gone away.’
He believes the sexual abuse has affected his life.
‘I reckon it’s affected me extremely … I blame myself for it. I don’t know why. I feel guilt, in a way and I don’t know why. It’s something I need to overcome … shamefulness. I suffer depression … I have horrific nightmares … about things that happened in my younger days … I wake up feeling sick and disgusted … I’m actually ashamed of it … It’s going to be with me until the day I die.’
He also has a very short temper and an ‘unwell frame of mind at times … bipolar … due to many things that have happened’. At his lowest points he has tried to take his own life.
His family, especially his mother, have been supportive and when Karl leaves jail in a few months, it will be for the last time.
‘I’ve finally broken the cycle … Come from a broken home, I lived a street life and lots of drugs to escape reality … it goes to the courts and police and it’s a vicious cycle … doing the same shit over and over expecting things to work out different – it’s not going to work out different. You’re kidding yourself.
‘A lot of these younger males don’t get the chance because they don’t make it through that journey.’
Karl hadn’t disclosed the details of the sexual abuse until he spoke to the Commissioner, but feels that he needs to speak up now to help young people currently in juvenile detention.
‘I never told any other person basically, so I felt this would be the time … all of these younger individuals have been going through this for years and no one’s said nothing, it’s all been swept under the rug.
‘I try to be a good mentor, even though I’m negative at times but I try to paint a picture for them and guide them. It saddens me because a lot of them commit suicide.’
Karl is going to start trauma-informed counselling when he leaves jail and will pursue compensation from the Northern Territory Government. He has finished a number of qualifications inside jail and ‘I thank … Corrections for giving me that knowledge’. He believes that juvenile detention needs to offer more educational and vocational programs for young people.
‘It’s all about just locking them up and throwing away the key. I reckon there should be a lot of educational things put before them, apprenticeships … art, music … they should be given that opportunity to find what they like and what they’re about.’