Rodney’s parents, both Salvation Army officers, separated when he was 10 years old. For a while he lived with his father and stepmother, who both physically abused him.
In the late 1980s, when Rodney was 14, his father arranged for him to stay in a Salvation Army children’s home in suburban Perth. This home was overseen by a friend of his father, and run by Michael Hughes and his wife.
Rodney thought of this placement as a kind of holiday, and assumed he would be safe there because it was run by the church. However, Hughes frequently and viciously physically abused him, including punching him in the head.
On one occasion Rodney and two girls who lived there were teasing each other, which culminated in the girls severely assaulting him in his room. Hughes ‘made me stay put and not defend myself. My nose was bleeding’.
Rodney found this attack deeply humiliating, particularly because the perpetrators were girls. A support organisation he told about this later framed this incident as ‘a sexual assault, because they felt that it was a sexual power to them, over me ... It didn’t help my manhood’.
During his time at the home, Rodney went to camps run by the Department of Human Services. At one camp Macca, the camp leader, listened to Rodney’s problems, telling him jokes that made him forget his woes.
Feeling special and secure, Rodney ‘set the bed up, for us to sleep together, because I just thought he was a real dad figure, and I was missing that'.
However, Macca used this as opportunity to sexually abuse Rodney. ‘He grabbed my hand and undid his fly. He made me feel his penis and testicles and rub it. A warm liquid was all over me.’
Rodney didn’t tell anyone about the abuse at the time, for fear they would accuse him of being gay. He first disclosed to his father and staff at the home when he was 16, ‘but they did not believe me’.
At 17, he made a formal statement to police. He found out that there had been numerous other complaints about Macca, who he believes to now be living overseas.
Rodney has experienced depression, restlessness, low self-image (which has led to poor self-care), appetite loss, heavy drug use, and sleep problems. He has come close to suicide, and has spent periods of time homeless. He experiences a strong reaction to people ‘who have a manner similar to that of my abusers’. This manifests as ‘fear and trembling’, ‘panic’, and also a ‘fighting response which is verbally aggressive in agitated conversation’.
His difficulty managing his anger has led to him losing access to personal and professional support networks. It has resulted in ongoing issues in the workplace too, ‘due to the reactions I have with triggers from my past abuser that people around me display’, and for years he received a disability pension.
‘I believe most victims who suffered like I did ended up with psychological issues and resultantly unable to sustain a job (because of people’s manner triggering fears of the past, and negative reactions occurring).
‘I believe most victims to be poor and disadvantaged and in need of better services of support, specifically for abuse victims, particularly men. I would like employment support tailored to my issues from being abused.’
Ideally, Rodney would like a mentor to assist him with his day-to-day needs, such as navigating relationships and work. He told the Commissioner that survivors of abuse had different needs to those currently met by mental health services.
‘There seems to be a lot of services for mental illness but not for victims of abuse. It's a different condition which doesn't fit under mental health. Victims of abuse have sensitivity towards the behaviour of others and triggers. If sensitivities are avoided, victims of abuse are competent and able.’
Speaking of one mental health organisation who was assisting him, he stated it ‘was not for me ... I felt displaced. No-one understands victims of abuse. It’s not a mental illness. Unfortunately this was the only help I had'.
Rodney prefers his current doctor’s approach: ‘I’m not going to label you now. What we really need to do is deal with the abuse, this is what’s really going on'.
In the early 2000s Rodney applied for and was awarded financial compensation from the Salvation Army. ‘It took two years to receive the money, and I found the process unbearable in my circumstances.’ His lawyers took a significant chunk of his payment, and he never received the counselling which was meant to be included in the settlement.
Both the private law firm Rodney engaged, and the mental health organisation assisting him, suggested his finances be managed by the State trustees – who charged heavy fees for this service. The small allowance he was given each week was not enough to cover his needs. ‘When I finally did receive the compensation I wanted a car to get a job, clothes, food and bedding.'
Rodney is now married (‘I can truly say my wife saved my life’), but his wife’s family are not understanding of the impacts the abuse has had on him, and how these affect his behaviour. He also feels his own mum ‘can’t comprehend that I’ve been abused’, and he and his wife have been cut out of family events.
‘As a result of the abuse I suffered, our families suffer from my anger and don’t understand behaviour by victims of abuse. Relationships have been a source of much frustration and angst ... We have had no support from anyone. We have been on our own for five years, pushed out of families and social circles because of uncompassionate siblings.
‘This is relevant because the amount of stress that has been put on me and my wife is exceedingly heavy, and it is taking its toll on both of us. My wife has struggled to work as a result, and receives a carer’s pension to look after me.
‘I need to resolve the memory of the abuse with court justice, alongside decent supportive counselling, and my wife needs it too.’