‘He’s the one in hindsight that’s probably shaped a lot of my adult life, and the fact that it was over 40 years ago is not relevant to me. It happened yesterday as far as that goes, you know – as far as I’m concerned.’
Sean was placed in a New South Wales government boys’ home in the mid-1960s at the age of 13, after his mother had difficulty managing his behaviour. He suspects he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but because ‘it didn’t exist in those days’ he was instead labelled ‘uncontrollable’. He had ‘good thoughts’ about the nine months he spent in the home.
After further difficulties when he was 15 Sean was sent, again with a ‘general sentence’, to a different boys’ home in outer Sydney. A general sentence meant the incarceration period could be anywhere from nine months to three years depending upon behaviour. This made Sean keen to keep out of trouble, and it also discouraged him from speaking up when he was sexually abused by a male staff member.
Whenever this man was on duty he’d line the boys up after showers and have them stand on wooden benches while he ‘inspected’ them, making them turn around and bend over. He did this in the company of his friend who wasn’t a staff member at the home. At the time Sean ‘didn’t think anything about it. You did what you were told and that was it’.
At one stage the man and his friend took Sean out in the car to look at the aftermath of a bushfire that had recently been through the area. It was a rare excursion for Sean who didn’t have any visitors or places to go on weekends.
‘There was a big fire that went through … and my parents were Aboriginal and they lived down … off the main township. They didn’t have the money to come and visit, ‘cause you used to be able to have visitors on a Sunday and they never had the money to come and visit, so I never had a visitor.’
After driving around for a while, Sean was taken to the man’s house. ‘Whilst I was back there they sexually masturbated me and I was forced into giving one of them oral sex, and they took me back to the home about an hour later. And then about a month or so later they asked, wanted to take me out again, and I just said I was sick and I wouldn’t go out with him.’
One night soon afterwards, the man woke Sean in the middle of the night and told him he’d wet the bed, even though he hadn’t. He made Sean shower and then wiped him down afterwards – ‘I just did everything I could to avoid the man after that … And fortunately, it wasn’t that long before I was released.’
Sean also experienced physical and psychological abuse in the home.
‘They’d put you in isolation, take your clothes off and throw a bucket of water on you when it’s minus three, minus four degrees, you know. And you stayed there all night and you froze basically. And then if they wanted to be really sadistic, they’d get you up at midnight with a toothbrush and you’d scrub the quadrangle. The quadrangle would probably be 30 square metres of concrete.’
After his release, Sean tried to tell his mother about the sexual abuse, but she didn’t believe him.
‘I had a terrible relationship with my mother after I experienced it, because when I got out I tried to talk to her and tell her about it, and she told me I was being stupid and to stop lying. The next year just after I turned 16, I left home, and I’d travel for years sometimes without even ringing home or writing a letter … I think that’s why I didn’t have a good relationship with Mum, because at the time when I needed someone to listen to me and believe me, she dismissed me out of hand and just said that wouldn’t happen.’
The abuse affected Sean in other ways throughout his life. As ‘a loner’ he has usually avoided relationships, although at one stage he was married for seven years. ‘If I don’t get close to people they can’t hurt me, that’s the way I think about it.’
Sean hasn’t told his children or anyone else about the abuse and doesn’t think he will. Nor has he sought counselling because to do so would mean he’d ‘have had to think about it and talk about it’. The prompt for his first disclosure came as the Royal Commission’s work became more well known. He wanted people to know governments as well as church and community organisations bore responsibility for child sexual abuse.
‘As far as I could see as a member of the public, all that was happening was that religious organisations were being brought to task about it, or the community groups like scouts or whatever, but there was no mention of the government institutions. And that was more my concern. I thought, why should they get away with doing what they did to me – and other kids obviously – and not be brought to task about it.’
‘I don’t think that because it was 40-something years ago that it should be taken lightly. Because I was a 14-year-old boy. I was there to be protected, not to be abused, and why should the passing of time make any difference to being brought to account for it? You’ve always got to be accountable for your actions. Doesn’t matter when it is, you’ve got to be accountable, and you’ve got to live your life like that.’