‘My mother and Danny were constantly fighting and my mother was constantly assaulted by Danny. I would describe my upbringing as appalling due to the fighting and abuse to my mother. Danny would also assault me with straps and lock me in the bedroom. We were never provided with sufficient food or clothing after being home and up until going to the hostel.’
From the age of four, Rhys lived in three different children’s homes in Victoria. For several of his childhood years he moved back to the house his mother shared with her partner, Danny, and various of her nine children, but these were never particularly happy experiences for Rhys.
In the 1970s, Rhys was sent to a boys’ hostel in Victoria. He was 14 years of age and during the two years he was there, he was sexually abused by one of the wardens, Jeremy Griffin. On weekends many of the boys left the hostel to stay with relatives and Rhys was left alone with the staff.
One weekend Rhys was sitting on the lounge watching television when Griffin leaned over and started rubbing his leg. The worker then proceeded to move his hands under Rhys’s shorts and underwear and fondle his genitals.
‘Everything was happening all at once and I found it was difficult to process in my mind’, Rhys said. ‘I did not try to stop him verbally or physically, again I was in fear of what was going on as there was no one else around and I felt trapped in this big place as I had nowhere to run. This was where I was living and no family or adults were nearby to help.’
Rhys told the Commissioner that the same thing happened on another occasion when he was alone with Griffin in the hostel on the weekend. He didn’t tell anyone at the time and only years later told his first wife. She was understanding and supportive about what he told her and Rhys later told his second wife.
As an adult Rhys relieved his developing symptoms of anxiety by smoking marijuana. He’d discussed this with his GP and saw it as an alternative to the anti-anxiety medication the doctor wanted to prescribe.
‘Some people would probably feel different but I’m not a good person with words you know’, Rhys said. ‘I’ve got a lot of hate and anxieties and all that sort of stuff and I’ve just been diagnosed about three months ago with post-traumatic stress disorder you know on top of all of this.’
In the 2010s, Rhys started to think about reporting Griffin to Victoria Police. He’d been doing some research into offending behaviour and he’d noticed an increased number of media reports about child sexual abuse. One of his brothers was in contact with a support agency and Rhys also connected with them. From there he was able to obtain his records and the file notes about his time in the children’s homes.
With support, Rhys made a statement to police and contacted a solicitor who referred him to the Royal Commission. He was also considering making a claim for civil compensation. He said thinking about the abuse over the past two years had opened ‘a can of worms’.
‘As soon as I found out that [child sexual abuse] is out in the open to the public it just made it so much easier. You don’t feel so bad in the public you know what I mean? You feel a bit more comfortable because it’s out there.’
He recommended that the identities of child sex offenders be made publicly available, particularly to business owners who could look up the names of prospective employees before giving them a job. ‘If you want to look after kids you want to know who you’re going to have working for you, aren’t you? So if you can get onto the screen and come up with all these names of people, you just go, okay will we employ him or will we employ her or not? This person here’s done this, this person here’s done that.’
Rhys said it had taken him ‘a long, long time’ to get where he was and it was his strong will that had got him through.
‘I just take one day at a time and that’s all you can do, is take one day at a time. Yeah.’