Matt Demitri's story

‘Two weeks after I was raped in the boys’ home, I had to go to Immigration with my family. There were no interpreters, my mother couldn’t even speak English … They were talking about deporting me; they asked, “What would you do if we put you on a plane to Greece tomorrow?”’

The 15-year-old replied forcefully. ‘I told them I would jump out on the way over ‘cause I knew nobody in Greece.’

Matt’s family had migrated when he was five, in the late 1950s. ‘There was a whole group from our village.’

He was wilder than his three brothers and two sisters. ‘I was uncontrollable and got in with a bad crowd’. When he was 14 he was made a state ward and spent around four years in care. At a government receiving centre an older inmate forced Matt at knife point to masturbate him and ‘give him head jobs’.

The sixth time this happened, Matt ‘lost it’ and bit the abuser’s penis.

Matt feared the injured youth would return to exact revenge, but never saw him again. Years later came the news that ‘he killed two people and died in jail’. But the other boys learnt of the incident and taunted him. ‘They called me a poof.’ He also suffered severe physical abuse from staff members.

His last stint in care, lasting around 18 months, was at a Salvation Army home. He was ordered to clean a staff member’s room. ‘One thing led to another – head jobs, then anal rape, sometimes twice a day.’

He complained to the senior administrator but to no avail. ‘All I got was filthy looks for weeks.’ Soon after this he was released.

Matt was not well equipped for adult life. At 18 he could neither read nor write, and had no other useful skills. Confused about sex, rebellious, and angry at the world in general and his family in particular (‘They never fought for me when I was put in the boys’ home’), he slid into crime – and a series of prison terms.

Marriage and other partnerships didn’t last. ‘My last conviction was when I was 40 … I slapped my girlfriend over a domestic, and was punished with 18 months jail. Lots of my charges were for thieving food and stupid things … And every time I tried to tell the judge about what happened to me early on, they didn’t want to have a bar of it; they say nothing was proven.’

Eventually, Matt went to a lawyer and successfully sued the Victorian Government and the Salvation Army for abuse suffered while in their care. He was awarded more than $90,000 but no costs, so the law firm took a large chunk. The rest disappeared in a few months, as he had no money management skills.

‘I took that money overseas and blew a thousand dollars a day for showing my boy where dad come from. Thirty grand … I blew it in 30 days. And I presume everybody else that gets it does exactly the same.’

Matt maintains the boys’ home abuse wrecked his life.

‘If them things didn’t happen to me, I would have been like my brothers and sisters. They all had jobs and that. And all my mum and dad’s brothers and sisters, all their kids have university degrees.

‘I’m the only one who’s living in a commission flat and sometimes I haven’t got food to get through the day.’

Matt reckons the compensation he won was a waste, and instead ‘long-term damage means the government should give us long-term mental treatment’.

‘It’s too late for me at 60 years old to try and plan anything. All I want is to be able to live the next 10 years not hungry.’

Shame and guilt have long kept him from speaking of the sexual abuse to his family, except for one brother.

‘Just two years ago I told my dad, ‘cause he called me a failure. I said, “You’re to blame ‘cause you didn’t take me away” and then I told him what they done.

‘He didn’t say anything, he started crying.’

Matt feels ‘I’ve been a perfect failure at everything I’ve done all my life’. But he’s trying to change this, and recently enrolled in an adult literacy class.

‘Last week I read my first little book. It’s good to have achieved something – because I really don’t think I ever have before.’

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