Owen and his siblings were taken from their parents in the late 1960s, for ‘a lack of parenting skills’. He was nine months old when the children were made wards of the state and placed in care in Victoria.
Owen has only been able to access half of his welfare files, but one of his sisters told him that he was placed in two homes, before being sent to a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army.
Owen was one of a number of children who were groomed by a Salvation Army officer and a caretaker at the home. ‘They took us for drives, bought us things … They took us to the movies and things like that.’
The sexual abuse took place in the laundry at the boys’ home. The men told the boys, ‘Youse are here to do something that’s going to hurt you, and you’re going to take it whether you like it or not’.
The children were abused daily, and it continued for ‘as long as I can remember being in the home … for five or six years, if not longer’ and consisted of fondling, penetration and ‘everything else’. The group of boys were all present when the abuse occurred.
The officer told Owen that if he told anyone, they wouldn’t believe him and ‘this is all your fault because you are here, and Mum and Dad can’t look after you’.
Owen ran away from the home three or four times. He remembers stealing a car with a mate when he was about five or six. ‘One of us controlled the pedals, and one of us did the steering … And that, I remember like yesterday … We actually had an accident … All the way, we actually drove with the handbrake on.’
When he was 10, Owen and his siblings were released from care and returned to live with their parents. ‘To me, Mum and Dad were complete strangers. I did not know them at all. I still called them Mum and Dad, because I knew them as Mum and Dad, but I did not know them as Mum and Dad.’
Owen told the Commissioner, ‘I was shocking at school. I was a real … I was, and still am, a real rebel … I was always in trouble with the police. I always wagged school’.
Owen started taking drugs, and he has been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘I don’t trust a lot of people … and I’ve been told I always scowl a room. When I walk into a room, I always scowl.’
He has been seeing a counsellor for about 10 years, and she’s provided him with coping strategies. He is also in contact with the support organisation, Open Place.
Owen came to the Royal Commission ‘to help myself. First and foremost, to help myself to actually be a voice … There has to be changes in the system … I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that [this] was going to help me in the … future, and also future generations … I certainly don’t want them to go through what I went through’.