Murray Stuart's story

‘One of the things I’ve always wanted to see happen in the detention system is to categorise and segregate age groups, and separate your serious offences from petty crime – because that's where it changes people.’

Murray was very young when his mother died. His father, an alcoholic, had difficulty raising Murray and his many siblings, and was physically and emotionally abusive.

‘Dad never did anything to fix himself up when Mum got killed. We were more or less made to live his misery.’

In the early 1980s Murray reached high school age but he and his brothers had ‘started shoplifting and wagging school’.

‘I think that was not having the courage to go and tell someone what really was going on at home … you didn’t have anyone to trust in, to go and talk to.’

Murray was made a ward of the state in Western Australia and placed into a children’s home. His ‘rebellious behaviour continued’.

‘I think it was more rejecting authority because of Dad’s authority … I think that’s where it started, of not wanting to give into authority … my problems always seemed to stem from authority.’

New managers of the home were physically abusive and Murray found it even more difficult not to rebel. They ‘didn’t take into account they were dealing with already broken children’. He began ‘running amok’. As a result, he was sent to a juvenile detention centre. At the centre he was sexually abused by a male nurse.

‘He got a bit touchy feely, and touched me up … Given that the guards were so hard, he was a bit softer; he’d hand out cigarettes and stuff like that … Grooming wasn’t spoken about back then.’

The abuse happened on several occasions. ‘I was really shocked at first – didn’t know what to do. I don’t think I’d even hit puberty then.’ Murray began to avoid the man by waiting for a female nurse to be on duty before seeking health assistance.

Murray stayed in the juvenile detention system, returning home for short periods and then being picked up for petty crime and placed back in detention.

‘It was like a revolving door … you’d be getting out and you’d go, “I’m not coming back here”, and then a few weeks later you’d be back, or a few months later. That’s how it was … you felt safer being in with your mates. And I think it’s because … you related to them, had a lot in common … Your family away from family.’

In another centre he was sexually assaulted by an older boy: ‘It was more by the tougher, stauncher guys standing over the weak’. About the same time, on a stay with his father, he was raped by a family friend.

‘I was quite oblivious to suffering what they call post-trauma … until the last couple of years … I hadn’t made that connection with it and I carried around a lot of anger for a long time. I still do carry around anger.’

Murray went from a high-security juvenile detention centre to adult prison.

‘The last big juvenile detention before prison … it’s like that revolving door again. It’s like the graduating school for this sort of thing, the abuse.’

While he was serving a sentence in adult prison, Murray’s partner gave birth to his first child. That was when Murray decided he wanted to turn his life around.

‘I was 26 when I realised that this isn’t for me … I don’t know how, to be honest, I don’t know how I made it through, that hard type of prison. It was just so hardening.’

Murray began to rebuild his life. ‘It all just rests with me. I just decided … I went and got a job and worked really hard, and I just carried on from there.’

Even though many of his siblings had similar experiences growing up, Murray received little support from them. He did though, disclose aspects of the sexual abuse at different times.

‘I had spoken snippets with my brothers and sisters over the years … and they didn’t seem like they were very interested or wanted to hear it. I think there was a lack of empathy there.’

Murray first made a full disclosure of the sexual abuse when he was about 40 and engaged with the Western Australia redress scheme. ‘Redress was very liberating. It gave me a lot of closure and got it off my chest … I received $45,000 from redress. That was the maximum cap. It gave me an opportunity to spoil myself.’

He also received a letter of apology from the government. ‘It brought tears to my eyes to know that my story was believed and they showed the recognition … Though I don’t agree with a capped amount.’

As a result of the redress process, police contacted Murray and he provided a statement about his abusers. He was told that the lack of evidence would mean convictions would be difficult. ‘It was a bit heartbreaking. Although, I thought, “Well, give it time and there’s maybe others that come forward".'

Others did come forward and the family friend was charged. Murray was offered the choice of sitting in court with his abuser or providing his statement remotely. He decided to sit in court. ‘I wanted to show that I had the courage to tell my story.’

Afterwards Murray felt great relief. ‘It was very liberating. I left something in that courtroom with him that he left with me years ago. I got so much strength from that exercise. It’s given me so much confidence.’

In the past decade he has worked for one employer. Murray considers himself lucky to have found an employer who has provided him with consistent support and compassion. ‘They’ve shown me a lot of time and patience, and they’ve given me more than 20 chances at keeping my job … I guess they could see I was just a broken person.’

Stable work has provided Murray with a sense of worth, and a future. ‘I was rarely at school in high school. I just let it go. That’s something that’s been a bit of a problem for me. I haven’t known what sort of a career path I’d like to take … I’ve missed out on careers and golden opportunities to really make a go of something.’

These days Murray is philosophical about his life, something he feels he has gained only with age. ‘I think it is something that comes with maturity and realising that there is a really serious problem [with child sexual abuse] in the big wide world … It’s learning to let things go, that’s the key to staying happy. Because this stuff takes away your happiness.

‘I just take each day as it comes … some days are better than others. Some days I’ll have a low day but I’ll deal with it.’

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