Mathew Bernard's story

‘I’ve been pretty well alone for the last 20 years. I’ve been homeless for the last 29 years. I have a problem with dealing with people in offices … I’ve had my name down for a [housing commission] unit for over 25 years … but I’m never able to really get the place.’

From a young age, Mathew knew subconsciously that his family was dysfunctional. His mother had been in institutions from a young age and her adult relationships were difficult. She also ‘had anger issues herself’. His father was a strong and physically threatening man and Mathew became ‘very defiant’.

‘Never really happy at home … Our household was infested with all sorts of problems … both mother and father were pretty abusive in regards to how they talked … if you stuffed up you copped it.’

In the late 1970s when Mathew was nine or 10 years old, he was placed into a Perth receiving home for behaviourally difficult boys. A group of boys in this home sexually abused him. Mathew believes that the group worker working the shift at the time he was abused knew about the boys who assaulted him.

He ran away from the home and was ‘made a ward of the state on the grounds that I was an uncontrollable child’. He was moved to a different boys’ home.

At this new boys’ home he was encouraged to pursue his schooling but his studies suffered as he ‘couldn’t really concentrate on too much’. He is conflicted because he has both good and bad memories from the home.

‘I had some really good times there, there’s no doubt about it … it was one of the greatest experiences I had around people.’

But one of the boys who was his own age took a particular interest in Mathew.

‘Duncan was about the same age as me but he was a tough kid. He’d been in the centre before.’

One day in Mathew’s room, Duncan tried to force Mathew to perform oral sex on him.

‘I was petrified. I was pretty scared … I don’t know how long this went on for either … I couldn’t do it. I was really scared.’

A couple of workers came in to the cell and the attack stopped. Duncan attempted to assault him twice more but on both occasions the attacks were stopped by workers and by other boys arriving.

Mathew was also groomed by a staff member at the home.

‘I look back at it and I think to myself [that] he seemed like a really nice guy … until some weird stuff started to happen … [He] liked to do a lot of hands-on stuff, he’d like to put his arms around you … kiss you on the forehead … he seemed to be the perfect group [worker].’

Mathew believes that the worker knew Mathew was vulnerable because of the situation with Duncan.

‘When I was going through this stuff with Duncan, I was traumatised … and I think, without telling [the worker] what actually happened, I think he knew [what I was going through]. Anyway, I felt the grooming was stepped up a bit.

‘The worker used to take us out on a lot of excursions … I didn’t think too much of the hugging and kissing of the foreheads … eventually … I ended being [allowed] to go back to his place … he would ask us to come and sleep in his bed with him … as a kid you think it’s a group worker and you think [it’s normal].

‘He’d hold you and you wouldn’t think much of it but his genital area would rub on you.’

Duncan had been moved to a different home and the worker threatened Mathew with being moved to the same home as Duncan if he didn’t do as he said. The worker also told Mathew that his mother allowed this behaviour.

‘These little seeds went a long way in regards to how you felt.’

When he was released from the home he went back to live with his father but began running away.

‘I was just on the run and in and out of trouble.’

Mathew was sent to a number of different homes as a result of police and court intervention. When he was 18 years old he was sentenced to adult prison for petty theft. Duncan, his abuser, was in the same jail. Mathew had to request to be moved to a separate section of the jail to avoid him.

Mathew has now been ‘in and out for 29 [years]’. He has a long-term problem with alcohol and many of his offences occurred while he was intoxicated.

‘I think … at the time it didn’t feel like [the abuse] really affected me … [Now] I sit back and I think to myself, the decisions that I made in regards to being anti-social … or against authority and in regards to how I dealt with people, were mechanisms that were put up to … block that sort of stuff out of my head … I’d get out [of jail] … and it was hard for me to communicate with anyone or get a job or anything like that.’

Mathew’s intimate relationships have all been short term and volatile.

‘Every relationship that I’ve been involved with has been a dysfunctional relationship … drugs, alcohol, and there’s always been some form of violence.’

Mathew was violent toward his partners but ‘never sexually violent’ and often his violence was exacerbated by alcohol and drugs. He would also become violent towards men in authority and any man he thought was gay.

‘Big time … Over the years, I’d slap them to the ground … I believe that I have wired my subconscious in regards to particular outlets, how I handle a situation …

‘I believe that I suffer trauma. I’ve done a bit of study on trauma and I’ve realised that if you’re traumatised it’s like a wound. That wound, if it’s not treated and cleansed it becomes infected … and maybe I have all these blocking agents such as resentment, condemnation, anger, hate, resorting to violence … so I’ve got to cleanse all that.

‘I don’t want to fight [any more] … with specialised psychological counselling I believe there are people out there [who can help me].’

He has 12 months to serve on his sentence, ‘which is exciting’ because he is going to spend the time working through his mental health issues. Mathew is keen to build a ‘father and son’ relationship with his child in the future and to ‘put him through schooling, to guide and direct him to do everything that I possibly can so he doesn’t make the same decisions as I did … that gives me the strength every day’.

Mathew’s recommendations for the Royal Commission are tougher screening for workers and more appropriate placement of children with behavioural issues such as Duncan.

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