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Lou James's story

Lou came from ‘a good family’. He was well looked after and always went to school, but at the age of 13 or 14, he and some other boys stole a car. Sent to a Salvation Army boys’ home in Victoria in the early 1980s, Lou and his friend Peter were sexually abused by three men in the 12 months they stayed there.

The first man to abuse Lou and Peter was Ned, a former resident aged in his 50s or 60s.

‘In that period of time I ran away from there on one occasion ‘cause of what was happening’, Lou said. ‘It started off I was working on the farm milking cows, and we used to get woken up at 3.30 in the morning to go get the cows from the paddock and bring them up. The gentleman’s name was Ned. Not quite sure of his last name but he raped me.’

Ned threatened to send the boys back to the detention facility they’d been in briefly if they told anyone about the abuse. Nevertheless, one day the boys did tell Salvation Army officer Major Bruce about the assaults by Ned. Two weeks later, Ned hanged himself.

‘We didn’t want to go to the funeral but his wife asked us. All the people that worked on the farm, his wife asked if you’d like to go to the funeral, and we’ve said, “No”, but we were forced to go to the funeral. His wife didn’t have no idea whatsoever. She was a nice lady ‘cause she used to bring us down hot scones and that of a morning, and stuff like that.’

Within a short period of time Bruce, who ‘was pretty high up the chain’ in the Salvation Army, began sexually assaulting Lou and Peter, reinforcing his threats that they not tell anyone with severe canings.

Then another worker who coordinated placements for boys began taking Lou and Peter to his home where he gave them alcohol, showed them pornographic movies, and then sexually assaulted them.

‘It started off one day a week, and it just went from one day a week to seven days a week’, Lou said. ‘It was happening every day.’

When he left the home, Lou told his mother about the sexual assaults. She took him to a Victorian police station where Lou was interviewed and asked to provide details of the abuse, which he did. After this initial contact, he didn’t hear anything further. As far as he knew, no action was taken.

The abuse has had a huge impact on his life. ‘It’s wrecked me. I still think about it to this very day, and it’s 30-odd years down the track. I always feel dirty and disgusted. I’ve got a four-year-old boy at the moment. I won’t even change him. I won’t. I just can’t do it.’

Lou said he’s been married twice, but mention of the abuse caused rifts in both relationships. He now lives with his mother who – along with his son - is ‘the only thing that’s keeping me going’.

Throughout his life he’d found it hard to escape the feelings he’s had since being in the home.

‘I just felt helpless and there was nothing I could do about it. We’re getting dragged out of our cells at 3.30 in the morning. And while they’re sending the other people down to get the cows, we’re getting raped in the milking shed.

'And yeah, I just always felt dirty, disgusted within meself, not being able to do anything about it. And every time we tried to speak to someone about it, them people were doing the same thing to us. You really had no one to talk to and it just seemed to me every time we did go to talk to somebody they were doing the same thing.’

As an adult, Lou rarely kept jobs for any length of time, and is now receiving a disability support pension.

‘It made me turn to drugs’, he said. ‘I started off just marijuana, then I went to heroin and it was all just to try and block it all out, you know? And yeah, it’s got worse and worse and worse as I’ve got older. Like I’ve been clean now 15 years but as I say, it’s still there, I’m still on medication.’

Lou has tried to take his own life several times. He has seen a number counsellors but hasn’t ‘succeeded with any of them really’.

‘It’s just something that I’ve never been able to get it out of me head. I still have trouble sleeping to this very day ... It’s always on the back of me mind. It’s always there, and now I just think, I hope it doesn’t happen to any of my kids.’

He recommended stricter screening of Salvation Army officers and other people who work with children.

‘I’d just like to see it all changed and see them go through all these special checks before they become an officer. Because I know how easy it is, and especially being so young, you’re vulnerable. They tend to take advantage of it, and in a big way, not just a little way.’

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