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Martin James's story

Martin grew up in Melbourne in the 1960s. Both his parents were alcoholics and his mother was often physically violent with him and his siblings. With little parental supervision, Martin began getting into trouble, and at 13 was placed into a boys’ reception centre for petty crimes such as stealing.

Over the next four years, Martin spent time in a number of juvenile justice centres in Victoria and Queensland. At the first centre a member of staff ‘bashed me around and stripped me naked and squeezed me genitals, yeah, punched me round the head … He was an animal’.

Martin told the Commissioner he was physically abused at all the juvenile justice centres he was sent to, and was sexually abused at two of them. The first sexual assault was by a female staff member.

‘She told me to strip naked and when I was standing there she just come and grabbed me genitals and that and told me to cough … She wasn’t a doctor, she was the clothing lady.’

At the same centre, one of the male staff members came to Martin’s room one night and demanded that he hand over a chain and cross that a girl had given him when he had been taken to church earlier that day. ‘I was in bed, nearly asleep and next thing I heard the bolt go on me door and I opened me eyes and … he smacked me in the head and said “Gimme that chain and cross” … So I took it off and he grabbed me by the hair and started smacking me round the head and that, and I was in me pyjamas and that.’

After the assault, Martin escaped from the centre. He stole a car and drove to Queensland, where he was caught and sent to a nearby juvenile justice centre. He told the Commissioner that this is where he suffered another sexual assault. After he intervened in an incident in the dormitory between two boys, staff came and ‘kicked and punched and dragged me to the pound. When they got me down into the cell they stripped me naked and’ proceeded to sexually abuse him.

By 17 Martin had become a very aggressive, angry and violent young man, which saw him sent to a prison which was notorious for housing some of Victoria’s most violent criminals. ‘In my head, I just thought … well, this isn’t going to happen again. So I just got violent.’ Soon after he was released, Martin became involved in serious crimes and returned to jail to serve a longer sentence.

Martin told the Commissioner that he has used drugs and alcohol in the past to ‘block it out’. Currently he is on prescribed medication for mental health issues and to calm him down. He believes the physical abuse he experienced in the juvenile justice centres may have contributed to the frontal lobe damage that he has suffered.

Martin never spoke about his abuse to anyone because he didn’t think he would be believed. He was also ‘ashamed, embarrassed’ and ‘you wouldn’t tell another crim, because then … he’d have a crack at ya’.

Since his release from jail, Martin has received support from his partner and from Open Place, a support service that offers assistance to people who have spent time in institutions. He told the Commissioner that he was nervous about coming to the Royal Commission, but did so because ‘I just don’t want it happening to other kids’.

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