Oliver grew up in the 1990s, mostly in Sydney’s western suburbs. His mum was in and out of jail when he was a kid, and his dad ‘was on his own mission’. Living ‘between households’, Oliver often stayed with his grandmother or other relatives.
When he was seven, Oliver was sexually abused a number of times by a boy twice his age. As an adolescent, he started using substances, got into fights, and was expelled from school.
His family didn’t have much money, and he wanted to have the things he saw his mates with. ‘I was following a lot of the older boys, and I wanted to be like them. I seen them wearing gold and that, and I wanted to have the gold and nice car.’
So he did a break and enter, and ended up in juvenile detention. One of the centre’s staff members, Annette, started writing him love letters when he was 13 years old.
Annette would ask him about his life, and he began to trust her, telling her about the earlier sexual abuse. ‘I ended up crying one day, and she put her arm around me ... She started cuddling me, and then she went and kissed me on the cheek. And I was sort of thinking, “This is a worker”.’
Oliver was alone in his cell on day when Annette came in and sat on his bed, telling him she liked him. ‘I said, you’re too old for me.’ He was released a few days later, but reoffended and was soon back in again.
Annette was his caseworker this time, ‘so there was a lot of one-on-one periods. One day, she just put it on me, started kissing me, then put her hands down my pants and started touching me. And then she made me undo her bra, and I started playing with her. It just led on from there’.
This abuse continued for a couple of months. Oliver remembers Annette was in her 20s, and sometimes smelled like alcohol. He believes other workers were aware of what was happening between them, ‘because other inmates were saying that she was getting very close to me’.
‘Only the boss [of the centre] spoke to me. He didn’t believe me, because he thought I was lying, he didn’t think his staff members would do it. And it sort of put doubt in me for a long time. And that’s why, after that, I never told no-one else.’
Other inmates also made complaints about Annette, but it is unclear if or how these matters were resolved. After leaving this centre, Oliver was arrested for other offences, and sent to a facility near the coast.
Whilst there, he was sexually abused by a worker called Julie. He remembers her being ‘like the other one. She started getting heavily involved with me. And she ended up tying me down with the sheets, and dead set tried to rape me’.
Julie sexually abused him for a few months. ‘There was a couple of incidents where she was rubbing up against me and that’, and she also performed oral sex on him.
Another worker at this facility, Peta, seemed to believe Oliver was her ‘boyfriend’, and they engaged in oral sex and intercourse. ‘This one got investigated by police, and she lost her job.’
At the next centre he was in, other residents teased and sexually interfered with him. ‘I was by myself a lot, and a lot of inmates took advantage of me, because I was a bit scared then.’ He disclosed this to a worker, who said staff couldn’t do anything unless they witnessed it.
Oliver was also raped by Adam, another worker. Adam was convicted for offences against him and other boys, and received a custodial sentence.
Oliver has not spent much time out of jail for many years now, often being incarcerated for violent crimes. He told the Commissioner of a couple of incidents that happened when he was defending women from other men who were trying to harm them.
‘It’s always been protecting females. And it only came to me to be like that after feeling the pain that I went through. And I didn’t want no-one else to feel it.’
He has also confessed to crimes his mates committed, because ‘I didn’t want them to go through the things that I got stuck with’.
Since he was 16, he has done ‘a lot of psychology work’ with a number of therapists, and told a few of them about the sexual abuse. ‘It took a while for me to open up to them, but I had to trust them first. And on them occasions, they’ve all been jail workers, jail psychiatrists.’
Oliver’s been on medication to manage his mental health before, but this lapsed. ‘I thought to myself it’s sort of a cowardly way out of it.’
Despite the abuse Oliver experienced in detention, he feels there are benefits to being in jail. For a start, it is what he knows best. Describing himself as ‘institutionalised’, Oliver explained to the Commissioner that ‘I haven’t been in the community long enough to even start a life’.
As well as being able to access mental health support, Oliver has been able to engage in various studies in jail. After an unstable childhood, the regularity and structure of life inside is reassuring.
‘I sort of get comfortable in places like this. And it was pretty weird, even when I was getting out at certain times, and going back home, I felt like I was not at home. And every time I kept coming back in, I felt I was at home ... I’m one of them people that needs routine.’