Merv had a happy childhood for the most part, although his father died when he was young. His mother re-partnered, resulting in younger stepbrothers. ‘Family life was pretty good, ‘cause I had my grandparents, my mother, and my nanna. They’re all pretty close, cousins and aunties and uncles.’
A couple of years into high school Merv began ‘hanging with the cool guys’, and ‘I started getting into trouble’.
‘Mum’s tried her best. I was just a rebel.’ He did make sure though, that his little brothers didn’t get into trouble themselves.
In the late 1970s, when Merv was 15 years old, he ended up in a juvenile detention centre on the outskirts of north-western Sydney. ‘It was like a military school. You had to march everywhere, you had to do what you’re told of course. Strict, very strict. As soon as you got there, you got your hair cut.’
Merv was allowed to do his studies by correspondence, which was only available to top students, and he dreamed of being an architect.
‘I wanted to go back to school ... After [the centre] I did go back to school, but I couldn’t take orders after that. My life just changed totally.’
A month or two after Merv was admitted, some of the boys teased him for not having a father, and ‘I went off my head a bit’. They were working in the garden at the time, and when Officer Dempster intervened, Merv threw a mattock at him. He missed, but Dempster took his privileges away.
A couple of days later, Dempster called him out, ‘and that’s when he started to touch me up. He goes, “you’re my boy now. If you don’t do what I tell you to do, well, I’ll make a lot of trouble for you”. That’s when he made me do oral sex with him’.
Dempster regularly forced Merv to fellate him. This happened in the ablutions block, when nobody else was around. ‘And about the fifth, sixth time, something like that ... I bit him.’ Dempster told him, ‘you’ll pay for that’, and sent him back to the dormitory.
Another couple of days passed, and then Dempster took Merv down to the isolation cells, ‘away from all the houses’. He was stripped down to his underpants, provided with a thin blanket, and left in the freezing cold cell for four days. During this time, he was subjected to several separate instances of prolonged rape by Dempster and three other officers.
‘They just came into the room, just held me down. Made me do oral sex ... Inserting their torch into me. Like I was screaming, crying, getting kneed in the body and that. Legs held down.’
When they left, ‘I was a mess, just in a ball, just crying, rocking myself back and forth’. This same kind of assault was repeated two more times.
To cope, ‘in my mind, I just said to myself, right, I’m a prisoner of war’. Merv had always liked history, and picturing himself in the Vietnam War helped him dissociate – ‘my mind just drifted away from there’.
After the officers had finished with him, he was sent back to his dormitory. He was ordered to tell the other boys that he had been away on leave, and ‘if you say anything, this is going to happen to you more often’.
Dempster continued to sexually abuse Merv. He was taken to Dempster’s home and made to perform oral sex, with threats that Dempster would set his dog on him if he did not comply.
Two weeks later, ‘that’s when I bit him again. And I turned around, and I had a shiv.’ Merv threatened to kill Dempster. ‘He sort of left me alone after that.’
One of the other officers who had assaulted Merv in isolation once tried to abuse him again, in the swimming pool, ‘feeling me up’. When Merv objected, other people intervened to stop it.
Merv eventually left the centre, and was sent to a different boys’ home. He told the Royal Commission that he was no longer vulnerable by this stage, and was not abused there. He spent time in prison as an adult, but had not been incarcerated for many years.
His experiences in detention left Merv with significant anger issues, and he abused marijuana, LSD and alcohol from a young age. His excessive alcohol consumption lead to many fights, and frequent drunk driving.
Realising that ‘one day, I’m going to go too far’, he’d given up drinking a decade previously, without any support. He was two years sober before he recognised that he had used his drinking to try and block out memories of the abuse.
Merv told his wife about the sexual abuse when he was in his late 20s. He has never disclosed the abuse to his mother, but still has a good relationship with her and his siblings.
Before hearing about the work of the Commission, Merv had not thought of taking any legal action about the abuse. He is now engaged with a private legal firm regarding compensation, and wants to report the officers who abused him to police.
Merv continues working through his experiences in detention, and the impacts these have had on his life. Recently, he has engaged with counselling, and he also attends a support group for male survivors of child sexual abuse. He finds it good to speak with others who have been through similar experiences.
‘When I got out of the boys’ home, one of the first things I done is went to the library and got a book out on Sigmund Freud, to study psychology. To me, they stuffed my mind up.’