In the late 1980s Rod was made a ward of the state and placed in a state-run juvenile detention centre where the staff were ‘youth workers not officers like in adult prison’.
The unit manager exerted significant power over the boys. ‘He worked there a long time. He did know a lot of people in jail from youths that had gone through the [centre] and into jail. And he did help you out in court … It wasn’t a far stretch to say he could walk into a court and … he could have you in youth detention or he could put you in the adult prison. It wasn’t the judge deciding, that was him … He would say to the judge “I recommend …” and the judge would go “Yep, yep”.’
The boys were only allowed out on day leave accompanied by the unit manager, and Rod was soon regularly going on errands with him.
‘Sometimes you knew where you were going, sometimes it was … you were just handed a leave pass … I [knew] no different so that was life.’
On these excursions the man sexually abused Rod – ‘most of the times in the car or in the van’. Rod was in and out of the centre from the age of 12 until he was old enough to go to adult prison. The abuse continued across all those years.
The unit manager threatened Rod to keep him silent. ‘I knew he had a lot of power … he was the judge of us … if his opinion was that you went to adult prison, you went to adult prison … That was the sort of threat that you’d get, “I’ll have you taken back to court”.’
The threat of retribution was constant and, for a quiet boy like Rod, it worked. ‘I’d just close up. I wouldn’t speak to counsellors … There was no other way to go … It scares the shit out of you, to be honest, as a kid … I believe other people knew … and just didn’t ask or say anything … he had to hire and fire them as well.’
Rod was also sexually abused at the detention centre by a female doctor.
‘It was sort of an ongoing joke over the years. Every kid that went in there, she’d put her hands down their pants … I can’t see how the workers wouldn’t know about it because it was so openly joked about … as a boy you don’t see a big thing with it until you’re older … I didn’t see it as abuse … I wasn’t hit or I wasn’t hurt or anything … [But] that wasn’t right.’
Rod has spent time in prison and has a history of addiction. ‘I substituted with drugs so I guess I lived in a cloud for a long time, too.’ He’s told no one about the unit manager except the Royal Commission.
‘He wasn’t silly. He wasn’t going to do it somewhere where he was going to get caught. Which has made it hard … If I wanted to prove something like this you can’t … the way he went about it was … very hard to get caught. I’m sure I’m not the only one.’
Even now, Rod worries about revealing the man’s identity.
‘I had the police contact me about him and … he still knows people … I froze up when police were speaking to me about it and I didn’t – I sort of stopped talking … for the same reason when I was young. That hasn’t changed anything. It’s still the same … He’d go and have coffee with my mum … so that … I didn’t want to tell anyone. I felt like I’d done something.’
Rod hasn’t been able to access his records from the centre and has never sought compensation from the Victorian Government. His motivation in speaking with the Commission was to have his experiences heard.
‘I ended up doing over 20 years jail and I believe it was the single fact I was made a ward of the state when I was young … it was just constantly back to juvenile detention each time. I honestly believe it wouldn’t have gone like that if I had been able to get out and be able to go home.
‘I couldn’t go and stay at my mum’s … I was going out and I had nowhere to live each time … I was constantly on the street or I’d have to pinch cars to sleep in … it was always just sort of run around the block as hard as you can … till you were back locked up.’
Rod has recently reconnected with his father which has brought stability and support to his life, and he maintains good relationships with his children.
‘When you’re that young … When they go “This is the way it is” … can’t do nothing about that. You grow up and that was life. You can’t turn back time. Can’t change it. But yeah, I wish I could.’