Neville John's story

Neville was born into a violent and abusive family in regional Queensland. He experienced disturbing levels of abuse including being locked in a cage in the backyard by his father. By the early 1970s, when he was only four years old, Neville was displaying highly sexualised behaviour towards other children.

When he was about six years old he was placed in a state-run home for young children. He spent three years in the home until being transferred to a home run by Catholic nuns. It is this institution that Neville feels was most detrimental to his future.

‘If there was so much sexual acting out why didn’t they [the Sisters] report it? … There’s a moral obligation … the Department of Children’s Services … were aware of it.'

‘If the nuns acted on that, [I] got counselling or whatever … Instead [they] … just [put me in] a chemical straightjacket.’

Neville was given sedatives to control his behaviour. In the home he was routinely sexually abused by an older man – who would also show him pornography – and by a houseparent.

When Neville was fostered out to a family for a year, he told his foster parents about the abuse. They reported it to the Department of Community Services but nothing was done. He was placed back into the home and he began to run away to local public toilets where men would sexually assault him. He was 13 years old.

Because of his behaviour he was placed in a state-run home for difficult children. He was also sexually abused there, by both staff and fellow residents – older, stronger boys. In his written statement to the Royal Commission, Neville said that he, ‘let them do the things they did, that way they would care for me’.

After a year, in 1982, he was sent to a regional Catholic ‘education and general training’ home, a place Neville refers to as ‘a brothel’. In his written statement, Neville said that at age 14 he presented as, ‘a very anxious, troubled boy, who has difficulty relating to others’.

Sexual abuse had long been normalised and this made him an easy target for predators.

Neville had hoped that in a place where severe physical punishment, psychological abuse and neglect from staff were commonplace, if he acquiesced to the sexual demands of the Brothers and older boys who abused him, he might also obtain some affection.

He knows that many of the boys who went through the home with him, some of whom he saw abused, have taken their own lives.

‘Simon, he allegedly hung himself within weeks after leaving the home. That’s really sad and that can only be attributed to his care as a child and whatever happened by the home and in the home itself.’

‘I talk about genocide, not just in the true sense of death … but in the reconditioning of a child over long-term trauma because that’s what you’re doing. You’re destroying their personality, you’re destroying their essence, and you’re creating something new from that.’

Neville was released from the care of the state when he was 17 and worked as a sex worker for the next 15 years to survive. He felt powerless, had no social skills, no friends and no life skills.

He self-harmed and thought about suicide on a daily basis. He only began his education when an older man took the initiative to teach him.

‘I was on the streets … practising prostitution, things like that for years … [The man] took me under his wing … he taught me to read and taught me to write properly and spent hours with me.’

Neville then went to university.

‘I thought everything that was happening to me before I went to uni was normal – that’s what you did in life. But it wasn’t so. Uni taught me that, through arts. Arts is really important for therapeutic stuff.’

He is now an artist. He has also used his writing skills to seek redress and compensation from the Queensland Government, and the Catholic Brothers and Sisters who ran the homes.

‘I fought the Brothers, I fought the Sisters … no one’s actually accepted liability. No one ever will accept liability.’

He wants to see more culpability for abuse fall to an institution as well as an individual.

‘How do we do something about corporations or institutions or congregations that have perpetrated crimes and acknowledge [those crimes]? We seem to say it’s okay. You can do whatever you want as a company … it’s [only] the individual we want … “Damn the individual [offender] but forgive the institution”.’

While Neville thinks that lifting the statute of limitations is ‘a good thing to happen’, he doesn’t believe victims should be encouraged to litigate, because the process is too long and stressful.

‘I’ve been observing other people who have tried to get to court and they’ve died … lots of boys are dying up there in Queensland, lots.’

Neville also found the Towards Healing process re-traumatising, and the Sister he had to deal with a ‘very cruel person’. He was initially offered a very low amount of financial redress.

‘I didn’t put up with that … a lot of guys took it because it’s money, it’s 2,500 and it’s an apology and it’s here … Why wouldn’t I want two grand in my hand within a couple of days?’

He sought more compensation and was finally awarded $25,000. He was unhappy with the organisation that assisted him in his initial application and believes there are significant conflicts of interest for many non-government organisations working with survivors.

‘They didn’t do the job properly and in fact they work with both these organisations [the orders of the Brothers and Sisters] in other areas, and it’s my belief that if you’re an organisation and you’re advocating for people who are abused, you do not work with [the institutions]. It’s a conflict of interest.’

He also worries about the relationships between government funding and non-government organisations who run child-focused services.

‘I think [the NGOs] are the biggest problem because they’re allowed free to do whatever they want. They get their money from the government. They treat children as blue chip stock … because that’s their revenue, isn’t it? At the end of the day, it’s [a] crass way to say it, but that’s what it is. It’s revenue. And that revenue doesn’t reach them [children].’

Neville has been diagnosed with PTSD and lives with panic attacks, anxiety and anger. He continues to have nightmares about his abuse and lives by himself in a very remote place.

‘My mental health doesn’t allow me to live in Department of Housing because I can’t cope with people being hurt. There’s just so much … pain in those places.’

And despite the fact that Neville knows all the abuse committed against him was wrong and a crime, he still feels complicit in his abuse.

‘It’s my fault mostly. I do accept a degree of that … I am to blame. I have to accept it until somebody shows me in power, that we’re not to blame and I’m not the only one who feels that.

'If I had sex with a man and I said, “Oh, okay give me 20 bucks”, well that’s my fault … but then the contradiction is I see that I was trained to do that by long term sexual abuse. That’s the contradiction.’

Neville believes that the public interest in child sexual abuse will fade once the Royal Commission is complete and he isn’t hopeful for significant outcomes unless some of the largest institutions are disbanded. He came to speak with the Commissioner because he has few opportunities to discuss his life and ways forward in child protection.

‘We could sit here for seven days and I’d still [be talking] … because there is no other opportunity once I walk out of here. That’s it … What’s the outcome for the future for them all? … I’m going to walk out of here and … go home … and that’s it. And I’ll wait to see what happens.’

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