‘I had a pretty rough childhood’, Rick said. Born in Victoria in the late 1970s, he lost his father to suicide before he’d started school. A few years later, his mother Janet married Les, a ‘drunk and abusive alcoholic’ man who also had children. More children came along, making the blended family quite large.
Les was extremely violent towards Rick. ‘I would get belted daily from his belt, or the kettle cord or his fists, right on into my teenage years’, he said. ‘I don’t know the word to describe how violent he was.’
Les also sexually abused him for five or six years. ‘He would get me to do sexual acts on him and he’d also do sexual acts on me.’ Another sibling also had ‘some horrific stories’ about Les, but as far as Rick knows, Les didn’t touch his own biological children.
Rick’s mother once walked into the bedroom and saw him being sexually abused. ‘I put it to her a few times, “Why didn’t you intervene? Why didn’t you help me?” And she goes, “I was too frightened”.’ Janet was also ‘a religious person who believed you went to hell if you got a divorce’, so Rick was forced to keep dealing with Les up until his mother’s death.
When Rick told a neighbour about the abuse, the neighbour said that he would ‘deal with that mongrel’. However, when he went to the house and realised the abuser was his ‘mate’, he thought that Rick was a ‘lying little shit’.
Rick also told a police officer stationed opposite his primary school that he was being abused. The officer came to the house and questioned Les who made out that Rick was a liar. He ‘had a way of twisting people’s perception of me, all the time’, Rick said. No charges were laid, and the physical and sexual abuse got worse.
After a school teacher noticed Rick flinch when he was touched, the teacher discovered welt marks across Rick’s back. Rick told the teacher that Les was ‘a very vile and violent person’, and his disclosure was reported to the school. A priest then held a meeting with Rick, Janet and Les. They discussed Rick’s anger issues, and the way he would ‘lash out’ at other students. Rick went home with Janet and Les, and no further action was taken.
In the early 1990s, Rick and a sibling were also sexually abused by a priest who was living in a nearby retirement village. The priest would offer them bags of lollies, or give them food in his flat where he ‘tried to do stuff’ to them. Rick disclosed to Les who got very angry and banned them from going to the village, but took no other action.
Before Rick reached his teens, he was thieving and shoplifting, and in trouble with the police. However, Rick said that this ‘was sort of a bonus for me because, in the end, I knew if I did something wrong they would take me away from that environment for a little while. Might be only six months or three months ... but I could breathe and get away from him’.
Rick went to prison in his late teens, and estimates that he has spent more than a quarter of his life locked up. He has had difficulty maintaining long term relationships, and has a child who he has not seen for years.
‘I tried a couple of times with long term partners but it always ends up in tragedy … because I haven’t been able to deal with my past and, unfortunately, the people that love you are the people you hurt the most.’
About 10 years ago, a TV program about a successful prosecution of a grandfather for child sexual abuse encouraged Rick to report Les to a sexual crimes unit in Victoria. ‘The police officer, she took me aside and she said, “Regardless of your criminal history, I believe you”. And I said, “That’s all I’ve wanted, is someone to believe what happened”. ’
On the first day of the trial, Les finally pleaded guilty. However, his barrister said his client was sick and sought leniency. ‘The judge said, “Regardless of what your client is suffering, he [Rick] has suffered for over 25 years. I will sentence your client before Christmas”. It was like a weight just vanished’.
Les received a short sentence. Rick’s relationship with most his family was ‘destroyed’ by the trial, and his victims compensation was negligible. However, Rick said that ‘it was a relief for me that someone believed me after all this time’.
Despite his experiences, and current incarceration, Rick is accessing counselling services, and feels ‘a lot stronger’ because Les is now out of his life. He is close to a grandparent who loves his daily phone calls, and often reassures him by saying ‘it’s your time to shine now’.
Rick made one emphatic recommendation. ‘You need to believe children … If a child ever says something, it’s got to be looked at. You just can’t turn a blind eye and go “I don’t want to deal with it because he’s a violent man or it’s going to destroy the family”. Well, tough luck if it does destroy the family. At least the kid is protected.’