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Robert John's story

Robert didn’t like nap time at his Sydney preschool. In fact he used to hide, which was why on the day he was picked up and taken from the preschool by a stranger, the teachers didn’t even realise he was gone. As for the other pre-schoolers, ‘everyone other than me was asleep’.

His abductor was someone Robert used to call the garbage man, because he’d seen him hauling garbage bins out to his truck. The man drove Robert somewhere and then got him to take his clothes off.

‘He got me to dress up in a ballerina tutu and a fireman coat, and I mean that only. He got me to strip off and then put on just the tutu. And without the tutu, just the coat.’

The man took photos of Robert, got him to put his clothes back on and then drove him back to preschool. Robert’s not sure if anything else happened as he was only three or four at the time, but he does remember feeling a sharp pain in his back.

Robert told his mother about the man and she promptly told the police. After some investigation, they told her they didn’t have enough evidence and that it wasn’t the garbage man, although Robert was certain he’d seen his abuser taking bins out regularly. His mother was angry with the police and Robert hasn’t talked to them about it since.

‘That set a pathway for me. After that I never liked police. I didn’t trust them.’

Robert never went back to the preschool. The sexual abuse was suppressed. However in Year 1, when Robert’s teacher called him a liar, Robert was enraged. ‘It was a big thing being called a liar after that … I got really aggressive about it.’

Year 2 was a highlight for a different reason. From preschool onwards Robert had been ‘semi curious’ about girls and how they were somehow different from boys. When his good female friend from Year 1 demonstrated the difference to him, Robert describes the moment as ‘a key point in my life’.

‘After that I wasn’t curious any more. I basically knew.’

High school was a better time for Robert but he left at 16 and went to TAFE. He had a relationship and various jobs. But then, when he moved to a town in central New South Wales in his early 20s, ‘everything hit the fan’. His relationship was over, he couldn’t get work. And when his step brother was stillborn, Robert felt a terrible depression descend. He wanted to just run away and disappear.

A psychiatrist put Robert on drugs for depression and mild bipolar disorder. He didn’t like the side effects of this medication so he stopped taking them. It was then that Robert committed the crimes that landed him in jail.

And in jail a year ago, someone who had sexually assaulted Robert made a comment that triggered his memory of the garbage man. ‘I freaked out severely’.

He saw a psychiatrist for one session but then he had to go back to court. It took Robert six months to get proper help but he now has regular talks with the psychologist.

He’s also coping with jail. ‘I picked up an attitude of “I don’t care anymore”.’ However he still panics if someone yells at him. And when he panics, Robert says, that’s when he lies.

Robert’s currently doing a sex offenders program and is keen to learn mechanisms that will stop him from reoffending once he’s released.

His recommendation for the Commission was simple: ‘When somebody actually goes to the police and says something, that they take it seriously.’

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