‘It’s time that we stepped out from the shadows and said, today is the day that it all stops.’
After the deaths of both his parents, Raph was placed in a New South Wales children’s home run by the United Protestant Association. He was five years old and the placement was meant to be a temporary measure while his aunt and an older sister worked through practical matters for his return.
In the few months Raph was in the home he was sexually abused by one of the male workers. ‘I can very clearly remember, I was standing on the verandah’, Raph said. ‘I was looking out, the kids were playing soccer. This fellow was standing next to me and I said, “Can I go and play soccer?” He said, “Of course you can play soccer, but you’ve got to be a good boy.” I said, “I am a good boy”, and he said, “No, you’ve got to be a good boy”, and he then took me into a back room, fondled with me and masturbated. I can also remember very clearly on a number of occasions where he came and actually got me out of bed, took me into the storeroom and masturbated into my mouth. That was on a number of occasions.’
Raph didn’t know the name of the worker and didn’t feel threatened by him. ‘That’s probably why I never reported it, but still, I don’t know, like you think, “Well, why didn’t I say something? But it’s like, is this normal?”’
From the children’s home, Raph was sent to live with a couple who adopted him. They had two other children and from the outset didn’t get on with Raph, who described them as physically and emotionally abusive. When Raph was found to have been throwing his uneaten school lunches under the house, the couple made him eat them all over consecutive nights for dinner. ‘I ran away when I was 15’, Raph said.
The adoption was carried out without the consent or knowledge of Raph’s family. They’d been putting in place their own arrangements for his future, including enrolling him in school. When they went to the home to get him, they were told about the adoption and that it was too late for them to have him back. Raph found out later that his sister, who was married and had a home for him, pursued the matter.
‘My sister found me once when I was still young and said to the lady who adopted me, “That’s my brother. I want him back. I want a relationship with him”, and she was told quite bluntly to go away or the police would be called.’
After media reports of child sexual abuse in institutions came to light, Raph disclosed his abuse to a friend. He then went to the New South Wales Police to make a statement. ‘People were coming forward and so I thought, maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s time. So I did come forward.’
Up until then he’d never told anyone. Raph said his wife, Carla, was ‘the most tolerant woman in Australia’ and she’d been shocked but thought it gave some cause to the deep and long-standing anger Raph had lived in through his life. He’d lost jobs, got into fights and described his fury as ‘out of control’. Anger management courses hadn’t helped and at one stage he’d gone to the children’s home with a can of petrol and a lighter.
‘I was going to burn the place down and I was going to burn me, because I wanted the world to know my anger and the only way I could demonstrate that was to kill myself in a horrible way, and let the world know, let people know, that this is what this is doing to me, you know. I didn’t do it, obviously.’
At the time of Raph speaking with the Royal Commission, police investigations were continuing. After making his statement he’d approached the United Protestant Association who initially treated him ‘like a germ’ and denied his report. They then put him in touch with their solicitor who settled a claim with Raph for $50,000. The Association also apologised and admitted they’d treated him terribly.
In 2014, Raph sat down with his wife and children and apologised for putting them ‘through hell’. In the process of addressing his abuse, he’d also reunited with siblings, including a brother he didn’t know he had. He found out that his adoptive parents had known details of his family all along but hadn’t told him. ‘When I ran away my adoptive parents gave me my adoption papers with all the important bits cut out. They knew who my family was my whole life. They knew where my family was and they wouldn’t let me have a relationship with them.’
Through his working life, Raph had been employed in the community services sector where he’d witnessed poor practices by individuals and organisations. Recruitment was often lax and people were taken on without proper assessments of their ability to work with children. He’d seen instances of staff members’ inappropriate behaviour with children that was ‘covered up and investigated in house’.
He said society needed to be ‘on the front foot’ with preventing child sexual abuse. Children and teenagers had to be taught ‘the realities of what happens’ and given guidance on what to do ‘when a car slows down next to you’ as well as safety skills when interacting with others online.
‘We got to teach our kids about this and we’ve got to send a message to these predators that, hey we’re stepping forward, we’re going to do something. Do a TV advertising campaign: Today’s the day it stops. Today’s the day it stops. If you see something, if you know something, report it. But then if you report it, we need organisations that are going to help. There’s plenty of organisations out there that you can ring up and you go nowhere.’
‘We need people in an organisation who are going to take it and say, “This is a one-stop shop”. Right? This is a one-stop shop. You ring me up, I’m going to go out and bat for you. I’m going to talk to you, I’m going to give you all the procedures that you can take and if you get a door slammed in your face, then I’m going to open it for you.’