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Robert Michael's story

Robert is in his late 60s, and serving a long sentence in a New South Wales jail for child sex offences. His victims were two boys. Before that, Robert had been jailed for sexually abusing his own young daughters. Robert himself had been sexually abused as a child, over a five-year period, beginning when he was about eight.

‘Can I say something first?’ Robert asked the Commissioner. ‘Just for the record, what happened to me all those years ago is not an excuse … It’s not an excuse. It’s a reason.’

Robert was placed in care in a non-denominational institution in Sydney’s west in the mid-1950s. His father had recently left the family and his mother had to work to support Robert and his siblings. Robert’s mother couldn’t manage him – ‘I wouldn’t do what I was told’ – so she placed him in the home. He hadn’t been there for long when two older boys, Maxie and Bill, began sexually assaulting him. He was also abused by an adult, Wilbur Templeton, an old boy of the home who didn’t live there but had some unspecified role that allowed him to come and go as he pleased.

‘I suffered virtually from when I first went there’, Robert said.

‘They’d come in and they’d fondle me. Fondle me, masturbate me.’ Templeton would put his penis between the cheeks of Robert’s bottom and ejaculate. There was a weekly bath time for all the boys, which Maxie and Bill took advantage of as another chance to molest him. He wasn’t the only one assaulted. He heard sounds in his dorm at night and saw a figure leaving in the early morning.

Robert told the Commissioner he was abused about three times a week from when he arrived at the home until he left when he was 13. He didn’t tell anyone about it. There was no one to tell. And he didn’t recognise what was happening as abuse. ‘I didn’t really feel I wanted to. I didn’t see it really as something wrong.’

Years later, he tried to explain this to a judge, during sentencing proceedings.

‘I said this in court, that because I was so young, and they didn’t actually hurt me, I sort of enjoyed it … The judge more or less made a mockery of it … I felt so embarrassed.’

Robert was moved from the home to another institution, and it was during his years there that he first had sexual impulses towards children. In his mid-20s he sought out the help of a psychiatrist. He revealed that he’d been sexually abused, and also that he had abused others. But he found it too difficult to talk about and didn’t keep up his visits. Instead, ‘I just went on with the stupid rubbish I was doing.’

Reflecting on that now, he believes that if he’d been able to stick with the therapy, it might have made a difference. There is one thing the judge told him that he agrees with, he said. ‘It’s this: I went to a psychiatrist for an amount of time and I left. [The judge] said, ‘Maybe if you’d stayed there, you might not be sitting here now’. And I agreed with what he said.’

Robert married twice, and abused his daughters from both marriages. He is not divorced from his second wife but neither she nor anyone else in the family will answer the phone to him. Being arrested for the crimes he’s now in jail for came as a relief to him, he said. ‘I was glad I was caught. I told that to the arresting officers, that I was glad I was caught. I’ve had it on my mind for a long, long time and I was glad that I was caught, to get it out.’

Robert will eventually participate in a compulsory program for repeat sex offenders. ‘I said to the courts, I want to do it. Anything that’s going to help me more, I want to do it.’ To do the program he will have to be moved to another jail, which he’s not looking forward to. But for now he is not unhappy with prison life. ‘If I could spend the whole of my sentence here, I would. You know why? Because I enjoy the work I do, I get on well with the people … I enjoy being here.’

He is certain the years of abuse he experienced as a child played a key part in what he became. ‘I don’t know how much it affected me then, but I know it turned me into a bloody deviant … I did stuff to my own kids and I’m disgusted’, he said. ‘I think you’d know, you can tell, the impact it’s had on me. But I don’t care about me. I think about the impact I’ve had on my daughters.’

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