As a child Ross had a difficult family life – his dad was absent, and he lived with his mother and siblings in a caravan park. ‘I was pretty much brought home and put in a shoebox. Mum was an alcoholic.’
By the time his mother died he was the only child still living at home, and at the age of 12 was placed into care. He remembers having some good youth workers from the Department of Family Services, who did the best they could for him.
However, his living situation was unstable, and he often spent time on the streets. He came to the attention of police, and was put before the children’s court as a ‘neglected’ child in the late 1980s.
At 14, Ross was admitted to a Brisbane youth detention centre. He recalls being stripped naked and taken to the shower area, where he washed under the supervision of guards.
On two occasions one of the guards, who he only knew as Skip, sexually abused him, including digital penetration. He did not report these incidents to anyone.
He was transferred to a different centre on another court order. This was a tough place, with harsh discipline, and he was physically assaulted by another boy on his first day there.
Ross was sexually abused here too, including being groped by officers when he was on his way to the showers. Three guards were particularly abusive.
The physical and sexual abuse going on at the centre lead to riots and Ross was locked in a cage for some months as punishment for his part in this disruption. He spent more time in juvenile detention, and much of his adult life in custody.
One of the main impacts of the physical, sexual and psychological abuse Ross experienced was anger. He also has issues with misusing alcohol, which exacerbates his anger, leading to him getting into further trouble. While in custody he has engaged in anger management courses, but these ‘don’t find the trigger’ for his anger but rather just deal with the symptoms.
Before speaking to the Royal Commission, Ross had never fully disclosed the sexual abuse. He gave some information to the Forde Inquiry, and to his partner, but did not go into much detail about his experiences. ‘I struggle talking to my partner. Why, because of shame. I’ve just recently told her ... Because I let them take advantage of me.’ He has never reported the abuse to police, but wishes to do so now.
Ross obtained his files, and became very distressed reading them. He has recently started seeing a psychologist in prison and has been prescribed Valium, which helps him stay calm.
He told the Commissioner he feels that he needs to maintain a tough exterior, particularly now that he is back in jail. ‘I carry this front, yeah? Tattoos and the rest of it. Under it I’m hurting ... It may looking like I’m coping this well man, but I’m not. You put a mask on. It’s ’cause I live in this bully world up there, I’ve got to go back to and not speak a word of this. The only place I cry that’s in my cell, when I’m alone.’