Born in regional Victoria in the early 1970s, Ryan was abandoned by his father and raised by a violent, alcoholic mother who physically abused him. By age 12 he was fed up with the beatings and the cigarette burns and took to hopping out of his bedroom window at night.
Ryan spent his evenings roaming the town with his mates, sometimes not returning home for days. Eventually his mother got sick of it. ‘My mum took me down to the police station. She goes, “Here, take him. I don’t want him anymore”.’
Ryan was classed as ‘uncontrollable’ and put into the care of the state. He spent some time in foster placements and boys’ homes. In between, when the authorities couldn’t find anywhere to put him, they sent him back to live with his mother who continued to abuse him physically, and one time sexually.
Ryan was also sexually abused during a foster placement. His new foster father told him that it was ‘what God wanted’ and forced Ryan to touch his penis. Ryan ran away from the place and lived on the streets for a while before he was picked up by police and sent to another boys’ home.
The boys’ homes were the only place where Ryan managed to completely avoid being sexually abused. But he had to fight hard for it. ‘There was pressure there … I ended up with a broken jaw and everything because I wouldn’t do things.’
As an adult Ryan felt a constant need to prove himself and this led to many violent outbursts and drew him into an association with criminal gangs. He was soon jailed, and has spent much of his life in prison since then. His session with the Royal Commission was conducted from jail.
For the last few years Ryan has been able to stay free from drugs and out of trouble. ‘Just woke up to meself’, he told the Commissioner.
‘I’ve done a lot of one-on-one counselling to try and deal with a lot of me issues from when I was a child. Because half my problem was proving my manhood. Because I felt like a lesser person I felt like I had to prove to everyone that I was a man. And that’s where a lot of my anger came, trying to prove that. … Obviously in turn now I’ve learned that’s not how you do it.’
Ryan went on to complete courses on relationships and anger management. He also disclosed the abuse to his counsellor. Getting over the embarrassment was a wrench but Ryan got there in the end and felt better for it. ‘I did benefit a lot out of that’, he said.
He is now seeing out the last months of his sentence and looking forward to joining his partner on the outside. She’s been ‘an absolute brilliant support’, and Ryan is determined to overcome his painful history and make a good life with her.
‘I’ve also had a lot of issues with females, too, because of what happened with my mum. Never could trust women, and I think that’s what broke down my first marriage – not being able to talk to her and all that. You stay over there, sort of thing, and I’ll do my thing and we don’t talk.
‘Now I’ve learnt marriage is not all about that. Marriage is about communicating, that’s the biggest part of it. It’s about communicating and making each other laugh. If you can’t make each other laugh and you can’t communicate then there’s no marriage there. Happy wife, happy life, so they say.’