Sam John's story

Sam’s parents divorced in the 1970s when he was very young and Sam went to live with his dad. At the age of 12 he went to his mum’s place in South Australia to try and reconnect with her.

The plan did not go as he’d hoped. Shortly after Sam moved in, his mother sent him to stay with a friend of hers. The man sexually assaulted Sam, so he took off and went back to his father for a few years, then ended up on the street. He got ‘mixed up with the wrong crowd’, committed a robbery in his early teens and was sent to a juvenile justice centre.

At the centre the guards had a system where they would ‘pat down’ all of the boys before bed to check if they were carrying contraband. One guard, Sam said, was more ‘hands on’ than the job required. This same guard used to watch the boys when they showered.

Sam was one of many who fell victim to the guard, and one of many who complained about him. All of those complaints were ignored. Sam was told that the guard’s behaviour was ‘routine’. He knew that it wasn’t. The truth, he said, was that the higher-ups ‘didn’t really want to address it, I don’t think. Maybe because they were understaffed’.

Sam was similarly dismissed when he tried to tell his mother what was going on. You’re lying, she said, because ‘you just don’t want to be there’.

The guard’s behaviour continued unchecked, to the point where Sam would ‘prefer to be disciplined than searched’. He refused to let the guard touch him and was eventually charged with ‘resisting searching’.

Aside from this minor transgression, Sam was considered a well-behaved inmate and was slated for early release. But when he learned that the offending guard had volunteered to be his ‘travel liaison’ and drive him the long distance back to his mother’s place, he refused to go. The centre wouldn’t assign anyone else to the task so Sam stayed and served out his full sentence.

‘It cost me a bit longer, where I could have been out, but I just didn’t trust him.’

Sam said that the abuse he suffered as a child affected his adult life ‘a great deal’, particularly in regard to his relationships. Sexual dysfunction and fear of physical intimacy ultimately ‘destroyed’ his marriage.

‘She knew I loved her but just the physical side of it wasn’t there … I’d work, you know, 14 to 16 hours a day, get home, sort of find an excuse to fall asleep on the lounge, get up, have a shower, go back to work. So I wasn’t there for her. But she said it’s not like she fell out of love with me, it’s just that I wasn’t there.’

Sam’s wife was the first person he ever told about the abuse. Since then he’s also told his son. He didn’t plan to have that conversation but the matter came up when his son disclosed that he had been sexually abused by one of Sam’s friends.

‘I sat him down one evening and told him I knew how he was feeling. And he’s gone “How can you possibly?” So I told him.’

Around this time Sam ‘took the law into my own hands’ and bashed the man who had abused his son. At the time of his session with the Royal Commission he was serving a sentence for assault.

Unlike the guard from the juvenile justice centre, who died without being charged for his crimes, the man who abused Sam’s son was tried and convicted. Still, Sam believes the result was a long way from justice, especially for a man who had prior convictions for sex offences.

‘For a second time he got 18 months with 12 months to serve and then appealed against it and he got it dropped down to 12 months with six months to serve. And I’m stuck with three and a half years.’

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