Luke Peter's story

‘You can’t start up on a crooked wheel and go straight, until you get that much of a shock you gotta go straight’, Luke explained to the Commissioner. In his case, the shock that jolted him into going straight was the realisation that if he landed in court again he was likely to get an 18-year sentence.

At the time Luke was in his 20s. He was addicted to heroin and committing robberies to support his habit. ‘I wasn’t doing more time. I’d spent too many years in boys’ homes and jails, behind bars, people telling you how to walk and talk – I wasn’t doing any more.’ He gave up heroin, and he gave up crime.

Luke has a brain injury, the result of a car accident. It affects his memory so he sometimes finds it hard to remember details. But he has vivid recall of the physical and sexual abuse he experienced during his three-year stay at a Salvation Army-run home in Sydney. ‘Some things really jump out at you.’

Luke arrived there as a seven-year-old, in the early 1970s. He had been living in his father’s care, in a regional town in Queensland. It was a very violent environment.

‘I got beaten up there by my father. Everyone I knew got beaten by their father. The wives got beaten by the husbands … All the women were bashed, and the children were bashed. That was life.’

The police took Luke and one of his brothers from their father and put them in the care of their mother in Sydney. But this arrangement didn’t work out either, and before long the two boys were placed in the Salvation Army home.

Here once again Luke found himself in an abusive environment – though as he pointed out to the Commissioner, his experience of life until then meant he was used to it. ‘You call it abuse, I call it normal.’ Officers hit the boys with heavy books.

Boys were made to undress and scrub the bathroom, as officers watched from behind them. One of the officers would smack the boys’ bottoms, grab their genitals and poke his finger into their anuses.

‘The Salvation Army are a bunch of dogs. The way they treated us children was ridiculous.’

After Luke had been at the home for a while, he was sent to the office one day. ‘I don’t remember what for. I don’t know what I did wrong. And I copped the flogging of my life.’ Luke doesn’t remember the name of the officer who not only beat him but went on to sexually assault him.

Still numb from the flogging, ‘I was bent over the desk and next thing I know I wanted to hurl, because I had something ramming into me, and a bloke on top of me’.

Luke was also sexually abused at night, by an officer who came and took him from his bed. Eventually Luke complained, he can’t remember exactly who to. The next night the officer came to his bed again. He had a knife, and he cut Luke’s penis. ‘He said “You ever tell again and I’ll cut it off”’.

The officer lost interest in Luke after a bit. ‘He had his fun for a while and then he stopped.’

Luke then became the victim of sexual abuse by older boys, who assaulted him in the toilets. ‘There was no officers, there was no one to look after you – you were easy prey.’

But he didn’t report what was happening. ‘I never complained again … You don’t open your mouth. You learn that very quickly in the homes. The more you say the worse it gets.’

Until he contacted the Royal Commission, Luke had not spoken of his abuse to anyone. ‘Not a girlfriend, not a mate … I’ve never spoken to anybody. My wife doesn’t know about it … And she won’t know about it. It’s something that I don’t think … When you’re with a woman, you don’t want her to know things like that about you.’

He has never seen a counsellor and doesn’t plan to. ‘Like I say, I don’t tell my wife, I don’t tell anybody. My own brother was in with me. I don’t know what happened to him, he didn’t know what happened to me.’

Another of Luke’s brothers, who stayed with their father in Queensland and was then placed in a series of institutions, committed suicide as a young man. Luke is certain that his brother suffered sexual abuse, and that it was a factor in his suicide, but his brother never disclosed it.

‘I know he was abused physically. You talk about things like that – you talk about being bashed … But blokes don’t discuss some things. We just don’t.’

Luke is thinking of seeing a lawyer about his options for compensation. He is unwell and attributes his condition to the abuse he experienced at the Salvation Army home. He was placed in other institutions after that one, and was molested there as well – though by the time he was about 13 he was able to protect himself.

He is not in close contact with his mother. After she placed him in the Salvation Army home he didn’t live with her again. He couldn’t, he said. ‘That’s why – because she was the one who put me in [there]’. When he called her to let her know he was coming to the Royal Commission, she told him not to. She feels guilty, he believes. ‘I would, if I was her.’

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