Oren's story

Oren grew up in a single-parent household. His sister was getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol, so his mother, who was into a strict vegan lifestyle, took her to an alternative community to try and sort her out. Oren was very young and got ‘dragged along’.

‘To begin with, we’d go up on the weekends to visit my sister. Little by little my mother would leave me there in the care of my sister … After a while I was left there not just on weekends but whenever my mother wanted to dump me somewhere.

‘Then if there were issues my mother had, she’d leave me up there. So I’d be there for sometimes weeks, just trying to occupy my time … I’d basically have to fend for myself.’

Life at the centre was very sparse, with no treats and very few other children. Oren spent most of his time wandering around until he was put to work, which included gardening, cleaning heavy equipment, clearing scrub, cleaning ovens and toilets, building a dam, and scraping used bricks. He often suffered injuries, including broken bones, but nobody paid much attention.

The community leader would walk around, telling people what to do. Oren said he was revered by everybody, including his mother, who encouraged the leader to discipline Oren as he’d never had a father figure.

‘I always seemed to be getting into trouble and I don’t know what for half the time. He used to give me a little spank, he’d put me over his knee. And everyone would laugh that he was disciplining me … he’d be smiling and laughing like it was a big joke.’

Over time, the punishments got worse.

‘What he would do was hook his fingers into my anus while holding me there and spanking me on the legs. He would sneak them up my pants. And he was always pinching, he’d always get you in places that hurt.

‘That would happen all the time. After a while, it stopped going from him just slapping me to him holding me because I’d squirm around. But he really gripped. His spanking was nowhere near as painful as his fingers.’

He would also grab Oren by the genitals, or hook a stick into his anus and use it to push him around. Oren would often bleed and had to throw away his underwear because it was covered in blood.

Once, Oren got caught stealing some lollies from a visitor. ‘He grabbed me so hard by my testicles, he’s like marched me out, my testicles swelled to about the size of a grapefruit and I had bruising all over. I was there for a least a week before I went home and by then the swelling had gone down. I didn’t talk to anyone about it.’

Another time the leader inserted his fingers so forcefully into Oren’s anus that Oren had to have surgery for tearing. He told his mother that he’d fallen onto a log or rock.

These events often happened in front of other people, and Oren said nobody intervened.

‘They all thought he was God. They’d compete, even the adults. There were a lot of really mental adults up there. This sort of subculture it really attracts people that want to compete. It was like a competition for the affections of the leader.’

Oren last visited the community when he was about 13.

He said it was very common for the kids at the centre to interact in sexual ways, with kids as young as six bragging about sexual exploits. One night a girl ‘presented herself’ to him, completely naked and wanting ‘a cuddle or something’. The next day Oren was summoned to see the leader, who beat him severely.

‘He was very upset and I know it had something to do with that girl, because the whole mood changed, like I’d done something wrong ... Now that I look at it with what I know, I think that maybe he was trying to groom her and I’ve got in the way. The way he reacted towards me was like jealous and it made no sense to me.’

The next day Oren was told to leave the community.

He returned to school, which he had attended sporadically when not at the centre, but failed most of his exams. He started smoking pot and drinking. Two years after finishing school he was in prison, where he spent much of the next 10 years. He managed to pull himself out of that cycle, but the impacts of his childhood abuse have continued.

He was diagnosed with personality disorder and bipolar, he doesn’t like been touched by men, and, in the past, would find homosexuals to beat up. He has trouble using public toilets and eating in front of people, and continues to need treatment for his injuries. He avoids people and lives a very quiet life at home.

However, he has been in a stable relationship for a long time and his partner has helped him see how different life can be.

‘My whole life I’ve been abused in one way or another by different people and I suppose you just get used to it, if you don’t know any different … My first interactions with other people, men, was beatings. I was getting the strap from fourth grade of primary school … I would get it every day. So to me, that was what it was.’

‘I started seeing a psychiatrist when I started this relationship … she had a small child and when we got together I started seeing how twisted my life was compared to the love, the affection, just the general normality.’

Oren now continues to see his psychiatrist regularly and work on those aspects of his personality that he never got to develop when he was a child.

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