Ronald Owen's story

Ronald had a tough upbringing in regional Victoria. His father was a drinker and was abusive towards his children. ‘That’s why I ran away’, Ronald told the Commissioner. ‘I can never remember Dad telling me he loved me or … anything.’

In the early 1970s, when he was 15, Ronald stole a car and was caught by the police in rural New South Wales. After he was charged, his mother came to court and told the judge what his father told her to say, which was, ‘There’s nothing more we can do for him … Do with him what you will’.

Ronald was sentenced to between nine months and three years in juvenile detention. The first place he was sent to was a remand centre in Sydney. During the time he spent there, he was physically and sexually abused by an older inmate, O’Rourke, and one of the guards.

Ronald described how O’Rourke bashed him against a wall and then, while the guard was masturbating, anally raped him. Ronald believes that he wasn’t the pair’s only victim.

‘I know they did it to somebody else, because while they were assaulting me, that bastard said [to O’Rourke], “Not so fast this time”.’

The guard threatened Ronald that if he told he would be sent to a notoriously tough juvenile detention centre, and O’Rourke threatened that he would kill him. ‘So what do you do when you’re 15 years old and you’ve got no one else? You don’t know anyone.’

After three weeks at the remand centre, Ronald was sent to a juvenile detention centre in regional New South Wales. On his second day there he was called to the office of the officer in charge. The officer told him to take his pants down and then tried to perform oral sex on him. Ronald escaped from the centre a few days later, and managed to return to Victoria.

Ronald told the Commissioner that his father found him at a friend’s place and took him to the police station, but they didn’t do anything. Later he got a letter from the New South Wales Government telling him that if he was caught in New South Wales before his 18th birthday, he would have to serve the remainder of his time. He made sure he stayed in Victoria during that time.

Ronald had ambitions to join the Air Force and become a pilot, but ‘that was over after what had happened to me, so I just drowned myself in alcohol and drugs’. Because he began committing crimes to pay for his drug habit, Ronald spent time in jail. Once he got out, in the late 1970s, he moved to Queensland, and hasn’t been in trouble with the law since.

Ronald told the Commissioner that he only came to the Royal Commission because he discovered five years ago that an old friend had accused him of raping her in the late 1970s. ‘I hate rapists. When I went to jail … a couple of friends of mine, we bashed young rapists. We bashed ‘em …

‘Now I feel guilty about it because I was accused of something I never did and the more I thought about it, the more it stuck in my brain, because we might have belted some of these blokes for nothing.’

Ronald was particularly worried about friends and family in his hometown being told that he was a rapist. He wrote to the woman about it and she wrote back and admitted that he hadn’t raped her. Ronald brought the letter with him to his private session, to show the Commissioner.

Because of this episode, memories of the childhood sexual abuse resurfaced. ‘Brought it all back to me … I’d just about got it out of me head after all these years.’

After more than 40 years, Ronald began telling people about the sexual abuse he experienced while he was in juvenile detention. ‘It was the biggest weight off me shoulders. The more people I told … told me family, except me mum … she was too old and she told me she was sexually assaulted when she was a child …

‘I went crazy and wanted to know who he was and she told me not to worry about it. He’d be dead now. Blah, blah, blah. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should do something about what I’ve been through. I couldn’t tell Mum what happened, because she’d blame herself, because she had to go to court … [and] said what the old man told her to say.’

Ronald began seeing a psychologist and found it really helpful. The psychologist he was seeing has now left his job, so Ronald is determined to find another one and continue therapy.

Ronald would like to see the men who abused him held to account. ‘I really don’t see the point [of coming here] if nothing’s going to happen to these people. I want ‘em to pay. I want ‘em to pay for what they’ve done. I spent years trying to hunt down [O’Rourke].’

With little information to go on, Ronald has not yet found any trace of O’Rourke or the other abusers. He now intends to report the abuse to the police to see if they are able to find the abusers, if they are still alive.

‘The main reason I’m here is because … if these people have died, they may have died with family and friends thinking, “Oh, what a great person he was” you know, “He did such wonderful stuff for the community” and blah, blah, blah. I don’t want that to happen. I want ‘em to hate ‘em like I did.’

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