Murray brought a written statement with him when he came to see the Commissioner. It spelled out in painstaking detail the sort of childhood he’d had in the 1980s. Murray was put into foster care in Perth when he was about 11 years old. His father was very violent and his mother, who had mental health problems, had a breakdown and was admitted to hospital. Murray had already spent time in a hostel where he’d been belted around by the night-shift worker. But this foster couple were very nice, the welfare department told him, so there was no need to run away.
Murray doesn’t remember the name of his foster father but he remembers a game that he got Murray to play. He had a jug of orange juice and a box of matches. If his foster father could flick a match into a glass, Murray had to drink some of the orange juice. The game went on for a while. Murray didn’t like the taste of the orange juice but he kept drinking it as part of the game. After he drank about half a jug of juice, he became drowsy and fell asleep.
The next morning he woke up in a big bed. When he went to the toilet, he felt wet and sore and noticed he was bleeding from the anus. The couple asked him how he felt. He said he still felt tired and that he was going back to bed. Instead, Murray snuck out the back door, ran straight to the station and caught the train into the city.
He lived on the streets for a while with a couple of friends. They took him to see a man called Ned Coulter who gave homeless kids money and a place to stay. Murray was warned by a friend that Coulter also felt the kids up, but at least they had a roof over their heads.
When Coulter started ‘acting weird’, Murray took off to find emergency accommodation somewhere. He went to a few places, such as the Perth City Mission. Sometimes Coulter would come and look for him and his friends, giving them ‘lots of money’ to come back and stay with him. Some boys went back to Coulter’s place. Other kids took the money and spent it on heroin and speed.
When his friends got on the drugs and went looking for people to bash, Murray went off on his own. He would sometimes get picked up by the police. ‘I often had missing persons reports on me from welfare … Sometimes I’d see my old man when he walked to or from work … Sometimes I’d follow him home to see if mum was home or see my little sister.’
Eventually Murray did get into trouble with police over drugs and ended up in a drug rehab centre when he was about 15. He was determined to get his act together. ‘I stayed there and wanted to make it nice, as I promised Mum I would get clean and sort myself out.’
There was a female staff worker at the centre called Angela Ashford. She would laugh with the boys and tease them when they flirted with her. She was very friendly with Murray. She’d massage or hug him then ask if that was okay. Murray tried to avoid her.
One day when Murray was alone, Angela came looking for him. She undid her shirt and put his hand on her chest. ‘She started grabbing me on my privates and then put her hand in my pants and started touching me. She told me that I had to have sex with her. We had sex on the pool table. I felt dirty. It felt wrong but I wanted her off my back and I thought she would leave me alone if I gave her what she wanted. It felt wrong and awkward. I decided I was going after that.’
Murray went back on the streets and back to taking drugs. His life spiralled out of control.
He’s currently in custody, but not for the first time. Murray told his brother about the sexual abuse the first time he got out of jail, when he was 17. His first adult disclosure was to a prison counsellor. He’d been feeling suicidal and anxious and asked for help. Getting counselling has been extremely helpful to him. More than helpful. ‘It stopped me from committing suicide.’
In what areas has the sexual abuse had the most impact on him? Murray paused for a long time before answering. ‘Everything’, he said.
He did have a welfare worker assigned to him when he was a child, he said, but lots of different ones, because he ‘took off all the time’. The instability meant his schooling was practically nonexistent. He’s been tackling that now as an adult and his literacy is getting better.
Murray has never reported the sexual abuse to the police. He is reluctant to report it now, but would still like to have both abusers investigated.
He doesn’t really think an apology from the government would help him. As for financial compensation: ‘I just want to be done with it.’
What kept Murray going through the years was simply the hope that things would get better. His mum being around was also a motivator for him. ‘Just to see her son do better, you know?’
He recommended that kids in care are assigned consistent welfare workers. And that if children don’t like where they’ve been placed ‘put them somewhere else’.
Murray did have some last, quiet words for the Commission. ‘I hope you get ‘em all,’ he said.