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Lionel John's story

‘I have no doubt whatsoever, none whatsoever, that since the very first day that Patchett abused me to the time that I’m sitting right here in front of you … that Patchett has been the primary force of the direction of my life’, Lionel told the Commissioner.

Martin Patchett was Lionel’s stepfather. Lionel is unclear about when exactly Patchett came into his life, but thinks it was when he was about five, in the early 1960s. Lionel’s parents had separated some time before. After their father took Lionel and some of his siblings, the children ended up as wards of the state. They were placed first in a receiving centre and then in a Presbyterian-run group home for Aboriginal children in Perth. As an adult, Lionel received a $12,000 redress payment from the Western Australian Government in compensation for the harsh treatment he experienced during that time.

Lionel was sent back to live with his mother when he was five or six, and Patchett was living there too. Though in his mother’s care, Lionel remained a ward of the state until he was 18. He could not recall ever seeing anyone from welfare services throughout those 13 or so years. No one ever checked up on him, he said.

At first Lionel got on well with his stepfather. ‘I was actually, shall I say smitten with him because of his food. He was a great cook.’

He’s not sure exactly when the abuse began. But he vividly recalled the details of what happened. He described Patchett calling him inside to his mother’s bedroom, making him lie on the bed, pulling down his shorts and sexually molesting him. It was the first of many episodes of abuse.

‘The first couple of times he’d call me to come inside, I’d go there but I was reluctant or hesitant – or sort of put my head down and I suppose thinking he might change his mind and say “Oh don’t worry about it, you’re looking sad”. But it got to the stage where as soon as he said “Inside” – before he’d finished … I’d be up and going inside.’

There were other aspects to Patchett’s abuse. He made Lionel go with him to steal people’s welfare cheques from their mailboxes. He belted him. Sometimes after sexually assaulting Lionel he gave him money to put in the family’s coin-operated television – two shillings bought two hours of pleasure and escape. ‘The black and white world within the screen was the only place I wanted to be’, he said in a written statement.

Lionel never considered disclosure.

‘When my other brothers and sisters would be around, he’d treat me pretty much okay. And when the next door neighbours would come over or Mum was around he’d treat me okay. But there’d always be little times where he’d lean into me … and I got to realise that had a meaning of – “Keep your mouth shut” or “I’m your boss” …’

School didn’t offer any refuge from Lionel’s troubles at home. He told the Commissioner that because he was a fair-skinned Aboriginal child with a dark-skinned Aboriginal mother, other kids made fun of him. He began acting up, and was placed in classes for ‘difficult’ kids. He got into some bad company and began committing minor offences.

Eventually, the abuse from Patchett came to an end.

‘I was getting to the age where I was becoming a little bit rebellious to him and I think he was starting to change his way towards me with some of the friends I was starting to bring home’, Lionel said. He believes Patchett may have been worried that Lionel would disclose the abuse. In fact, Lionel didn’t want anyone to know about it, and didn’t disclose it for many years.

As a teenager Lionel got into drugs and alcohol. His truanting and various minor offences led to multiple spells in a juvenile justice centre. He also became a serial sexual offender, first jailed for sex offences in his early 20s. He was in jail when he spoke to the Commissioner, partway through a lengthy sentence.

Now 60, prison was a familiar environment to him. ‘I think it’s been worked out now that I’ve actually been in prison or incarcerated for I think it’s about 36 years’, he said.

He said his ‘inappropriate sexual behaviour’ is due to drug and alcohol use. ‘I’ve never offended when I haven’t been under the influence of alcohol and drugs’, he told the Commissioner.

‘Also, I want youse to understand that I mean absolutely no disrespect to towards any of the victims that I’ve offended against over the years. All the offences and all the things I’ve been involved in with people throughout my entire life, I have never ever ever ever hit a person, choked a person, strangled a person, kicked a person or anything like that … I used to go out of my way not to hurt them.’

He finally shared his story of abuse in the early 2000s, with a prison psychologist. The psychologist helped him prepare a statement for police. Soon afterwards he disclosed his experiences to his mother and one of his brothers, Andy. Andy then revealed that he too had been sexually abused by Patchett. On the basis of Lionel and Andy’s statements, Patchett was eventually arrested and brought to trial. Both the police investigation and the prosecution were botched, Lionel felt. Even before the trial got underway, he felt sure Patchett wouldn’t be convicted. He was right.

Lionel had several recommendations for the Commissioner. One of these was a mentoring program that would recognise that Aboriginal people don’t like to be told what to do by outsiders. If welfare agencies got to know individual families they could identify a family member who could take on the role of being an ‘active carer’, equipped with skills and knowledge to educate other family members about nutrition and the ‘good things in life’, he said.

‘I really think it’d have a positive effect.’

Lionel is now participating in a ‘resocialisation’ program. He has previously completed a sex offenders’ treatment program, which he found very valuable. ‘I was able to join the dots’, he said. ‘I was able to understand a lot more.’ He blames Patchett for the pain in his life.

‘That period was hell. And my life since then has had a little bit of hell in it all along.’

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