‘This is how they operate. They become … like a father or mother role model of some sort, take you under their wing, offer advice, give you things, and they lavish you with all this understanding … That is how they get in, you see … And little by little they break down these tiny – they are very clever – they break down these tiny little barriers and before you know it you’re doing things that you think you wanted to do. It’s quite sick.’
Having spent almost 30 years in prison, Rohan has had time to gain some perspective and insight into the sexual abuse he was subjected to as a teenager in two different juvenile detention centres.
Rohan was a loner as a child growing up in Victoria in the late 1960s. He rebelled against his mother’s adopted religion, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, because the limits she placed on him were restrictive and isolating. ‘There was no Christmas, there was no Easter, there was no nothing.’ He ‘never got to go anywhere because my mum wouldn’t sign a consent form’. At school he became known as the ‘weird’ kid and was bullied and forced to fight other boys. ‘I got sick of it … so I became truant.’
As a result, Rohan regularly appeared in court. He was first placed into a state-run juvenile detention centre in the early 1970s when he was about eight years old.
‘Once I got there, I looked into the eyes of all the other kids that were there and it was like they were my long lost family … I understood immediately just by looking at them … whatever it was that was going on in their lives – that they were being ignored, not understood by anybody, teachers, parents, peers, nobody – and this is where you end up.’
After six weeks he wanted to stay in the centre and not return to his family. ‘I had to tell my dad that I didn’t want to go home, and it was the hardest thing to this day.’
Rohan remained in the care of the state, being placed in orphanages and juvenile detention centres. Other boys, inside and out of the centres, taught him how to survive.
‘I’m running away … I’m living on the street and I’m learning how to break into shops, and I’m learning how to hotwire a car and how to drive and do all those things to stay alive on the street.’
When he was about 14 he re-joined his family and moved interstate. His mother agreed not to force him to participate in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Rohan believed he would have a fresh start.
‘I found myself … committing crimes, stealing, smoking pot – just little things – and that is what got me to the Queensland juvenile centre. And, long story short, the progression from there was prison.’
He was sexually abused by a staff member in a Victorian juvenile detention centre and by other boys and staff in the Queensland centre. To keep him acquiescent and quiet about the abuse, he was threatened. ‘It was kind of like … “If you don’t do what he says you’ll get bashed” and things like that.’ In the Queensland centre Rohan reported the abuse to an employee but no action was taken.
‘I tried once, a very, very long time ago [to report the abuse] … and I got thrown in … a detention unit and fed bread and water for seven days for making a frivolous complaint. And after that I was kind of like, “Yeah, no one’s going to believe me anyway”.’
Rohan understands now that one of the significant impacts of the abuse was his inability to control his anger.
‘[I was] so angry … and every time you get beat up in some way, everything seems to flow back to all the things that have happened to you … That is the reason that I’m still [in jail]. Because I wasn’t able to control the emotional side … I was so angry and I was afraid of slipping up … My thing was, with anger, I would just avoid it by stealing money and then using that money to get drunk, get stoned, have parties.’
He held a grudge against his abusers for many years.
‘I swore to God that if I ever came across any one of them … I would kill them on the spot. That’s how bad I felt about it … That’s the attitude that you grow into … You’ve got three choices - you become a lion, a tiger or a sheep. Where I’d been and what I’d suffered through, there was no way I was going to be a sheep.’
Now though, Rohan appreciates the insight that growing older provides.
‘I’m aware that the world is bigger than just this place and I try very hard not to allow these things to consume me … I’ve been able to control myself and understand more … and see it from a different perspective. And I only wish that it [insight] came decades earlier … ’
This perspective is assisted by his re-engagement with God.
‘I can’t explain it. There is no reason for me to be this sane or articulate or be able to discuss these matters in the fashion that I am doing today – I’m not that smart. So there’s got to be something else at play here and I believe it’s Him. I can’t explain it any other way.’
Rohan was offered redress by one state government, but the settlement was much less than initially discussed. ‘I didn’t accept it, I didn’t think it was right.’ He knows he may never get out of prison and, after being incarcerated from such a young age, he can see that he is ‘very extremely institutionalised’.
‘I’m pretty happy and content where I am. And I never thought the day would come when I would say [that] … I’m alright with myself … Everything I do is to help the next bloke …I don’t see … this [child sexual abuse] being healed or stopped overnight. It’s like war, it just doesn’t stop … Hopefully in my lifetime I’m able to maybe save at least one or two [people].’