Lance William's story

Lance’s father died when he was 11. ‘I just lost it … My whole world was shattered. I wouldn’t go to school and then I started stealing things … I got charged and they made me a state ward until I was 21.’

In the mid-1960s Lance was sent to a number of juvenile detention centres in Victoria, where he was subjected to physical and sexual abuse. On several occasions, officers exposed themselves to him, and asked him to perform sexual acts on them.

‘This officer got me by meself and he flopped his [penis] out and said, “You know what to do with this” … From that day on, I made sure I wasn’t with that officer … I didn’t trust anyone.’

Other boys at the detention centre told frightening tales of what had happened to them at a Catholic detention centre. Lance changed his nominated religion from Catholic to Church of England, so that he would be sent to a centre run by the Salvation Army. However, after he was sent there, he found himself subjected to the same kinds of abuse he experienced at the other centres.

Because he ran away so often from the juvenile detention centres, Lance was sent to adult jail when he was 16. There, he was regularly tortured and sexually abused by other prisoners. ‘We used to get hurt, and stabbed and everything, but … no one got charged.’

There were also two officers who constantly physically abused Lance. One of them would pick him up by the throat, and when he had turned blue, he’d drop him onto the concrete. Lance came to expect to be ‘bashed to a pulp’ every day. ‘You read about it and see it in movies, but you don’t think that it could happen in real life.’

Lance was aware of the consequences if he reported the abuse, so he never said anything. ‘I knew they were crimes against me, but I wasn’t in a position to say anything, I didn’t think … It was like the three wise monkeys. We see everything, but you’re not allowed to say anything.’

Lance spent his time in jail living in fear. ‘It still gets me. I talk about it. It still gets me … I can’t explain the fear.’ He told the Commissioner that he stayed up all night trying to make his bed perfectly, the way it was supposed to be made, and he washed his face and drank water out of the toilet bowl, to avoid dirtying the bowl in his cell.

Once Lance turned 21 and was no longer a ward of the state, he kept returning to jail. ‘I knew nothing else but being shifty and making money that way, you know … I was never taught anything.’

Lance has managed to stay out of jail since meeting his second wife 40 years ago, but the abuse he experienced in juvenile and adult detention centres has had a significant impact on his adult life. He has few friends, and doesn’t trust people. He constantly locks windows in his house, and closes doors to give himself the feeling of safety that he felt when locked in his cell. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and has a history of self-harm.

Lance doesn’t trust the psychiatrists that he has seen over the years, because he says that they only know what they have read in books. ‘The only people that can help you are the people that have gone through it themselves.’

Lance told the Commissioner that ‘it’s easier to forget than to talk about it’, but he felt capable of speaking at his private session ‘if I know it’s going to help other people’.

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