There were complications during Parker Brendan’s birth in the 1950s. ‘The oxygen had been cut off for some time and I was born with mild brain damage.’ As he got older it became harder for his mum to manage some of his behaviours.
‘I was 12 when I was made a ward of state. My mum was finding it hard to look after me and I could be very uncontrollable at times ... She thought by putting me into the special school I would be looked after.’
Initially Parker was placed in a school for children with disabilities. He remembers he was heavily medicated and felt ‘dopey’ during his time there. ‘I had no choice. If I tried to refuse the medication, I would get the cane.’
He was later sent to a state boys’ training centre in regional Victoria.
‘There were a lot of homosexual things going on between older and younger boys. The staff used to turn a blind eye to what was happening. I saw things happening to other boys and sexual things happened to me too.’
When his parents learned about the conditions at the centre, they took him back. However, his behaviour had deteriorated by this stage and he was labelled ‘uncontrollable’, and was again moved into institutional care.
Next he was placed in a Melbourne reception centre, where he was again sexually abused by his peers.
‘There were not a lot of places for children with similar conditions to me, so this was the only option at the time ... There were a lot of homosexual things going on between all the boys. In the showers and all that, it was disgusting. I was forced to do things. I remember being medicated a lot, but most of the time I used to run away from the place.
‘I wanted to be able to write a diary about what I had been experiencing – but I couldn't read or write.'
There was a bigger, older boy who bullied him – until one day he ‘snapped’ at this boy and attacked him. After this Parker was removed from the centre.
When Parker was in his early 20s, he spent a couple of years in a psychiatric hospital, and was again heavily medicated. There were no facilities for people ‘with cognitive issues like I had, so they put me in a mental institution ... They used to refer to it as a lunatic asylum’.
Conditions in this facility were harsh too, and Parker experienced further abuse.
‘I recall the nurses would give me shock treatment and injections to calm me down. I would be like a zombie. There was sexual abuse [rape] from the one male nurse, and he used to come and get me at night from the ward ... The nurses would just sit there and play cards, and if you spoke out of line you got a smack in the mouth. Many of the nurses were very good with their fists.’
Parker also witnessed other patients being physically abused – often as punishment for displaying symptoms of their condition. ‘When my family came to visit, they were not allowed to come into the ward. The place was very dark and dingy. None of my family really knew what had happened to me until later on.’
As a young adult Parker disclosed the sexual abuse he had experienced to his sister Anne. ‘It hurts to talk about it ... It was very hard to express it, it's like grief – it's not something you can talk about to other people.’
For much of Parker’s adult life he has been in and out of mental health facilities.
‘In about 1980, when I was in a psychiatric ward, I tried to tell the staff what had happened to me in the institutions. Instead of listening to me and believing me, they just thought I was delusional and would feed me more medication. They thought I was storytelling to get attention.’
The abuse and ill-treatment he received over the years have had many impacts. Parker lives with PTSD, has self-harmed, and has attempted suicide several times. ‘It has affected my relationships with women. I have had many people taking advantage of me because I am too soft.’
Parker has problems with insomnia and nightmares. He lives independently now in his own unit, but finds it hard to go out in public much. Every few days Anne comes to take him out for coffee, and she supported him when he met with the Commissioner.
‘It is not until now, with the Royal Commission, that I feel I can talk about it and get it out there ... I just want to be heard and I want children to be protected from predators. Children should not be hurt by people who are meant to be looking after them.’