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Nicholas James's story

Nicholas spoke to the Commissioner from jail where he’s serving a sentence for multiple rapes. When asked if his own criminal behaviour was caused by the abuse he suffered as a boy, Nicholas said, ‘It’s easy just to say “Yeah”, but really I don’t know’.

He committed his first crime before he was nine years old. It was the mid-1960s and he was living in South Australia with his parents and siblings. Though his father sometimes punished him and his sister by forcing them to strip naked and then bashing them, Nicholas still described his parents as ‘a good couple. Good parents’.

‘All in all they tried to give us everything that we were wanting. Why I started stealing, I have no idea. But I did.’

One day Nicholas’s dad took him to the local police station hoping that a quick scare might do him good. The cops played along but the court had a different idea. They made Nicholas a ward of the state and sent him to a remand centre.

Nicholas spent most of the next seven years living in state-run boys’ homes in South Australia and Western Australia. During this time he was violently sexually assaulted many times by older boys and staff.

When he was about 12 he and some other boys reported one of the worst offenders – a male staff member – to the head of welfare. They were told that if they kept quiet they’d be out of the home much quicker. After that, Nicholas kept the abuse to himself.

He was released from the home at 16, committed a break and enter a few months later and was sent to an adult jail, where he was raped by another inmate. When he got out of jail he committed another crime and was sent back in. The same pattern has played out again and again ever since.

Nicholas said that his experiences in the boys’ homes gave him a ‘preoccupation with sex’. His most recent crimes occurred after this preoccupation collided with his drug addiction.

‘The speed tends to increase sex drive 10-fold. The rapes came about because I can’t afford speed as well as sex, so. And I thought, “Well, I’ll just pick them up off the street”. Prostitutes, you know. Didn’t work out.’

While in jail, Nicholas applied for victims of crime compensation from the two state governments that ran the homes where he was abused. He received two completely different responses. Western Australia paid him $7,000. South Australia refused to pay anything because of his criminal record.

‘That really kicked me in the arse. I just felt that I wasn’t important. That, “Oh yeah, this happened to him but he’s got a criminal history so fuck him”.’

Nicholas still doesn’t talk much about the abuse. Over the years he’s mentioned it to his mum and to a counsellor. Speaking about it to the counsellor felt good but only for a short while.

‘Dealing with the emotions and all that afterwards, you sort of think, “Oh shit. Was it worth it? Now I feel like shit”. It takes time to be able to push it all back, like behind a wall or something.

‘And I think I wanted people to sort of understand how I felt when this was still going on. Like, I was terrified and not looking forward to the painful part. I just wanted someone to be able to feel what I felt.’

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