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Spencer James's story

‘I think I went through about a hundred homes in my first 12 months of care. Sometimes two or three times a day I was moving around. Quite often I didn’t even know what was happening.’

Spencer had grown up in a fractured family in South Australia in the late 1980s. He and his sister spent most of their early years travelling around the state in a van with their mum and stepfather.

‘My mum drank alcohol quite a fair bit. As a child I went through a lot of pubs and motels and stuff. My stepdad was a pretty vicious person and was violent towards my mother and me. I went into foster care for about a month or two, me and my sister did.’

The siblings returned to their mother for a while, until she broke up with their stepfather and they were sent back to foster care. When Spencer was about 11 he was made a ward of the state and he went on to live in many different foster homes until he turned 18.

‘Two foster homes in particular that I went to, one of my foster fathers was married and had kids and that of his own … and a couple of times he’d take me to the BMX track in New South Wales and – I’ve never really told this to anyone … ’

Spencer was sexually abused by that foster father over a period of six months. He was 13 at the time. His private session was the first time he had disclosed the abuse to anybody.

‘I’m not too sure how I got out of that place, I can’t quite remember if I ran away or, being a problem child as they said, you know … I might have requested to go to another foster home, I’m not entirely sure.’

A year or two later, Spencer was placed in the home of a single man in regional NSW.

‘I went through a lot of foster homes in my time as ward of the state. When I went in there I noticed the room I was put in was all male pornographic magazines and I was quite surprised they were in the room I was supposed to be staying in. I was there for probably a week or two … He gave me red wine one night and made me masturbate him and he put his fingers in from behind me while he was looking at the magazines.

‘I don’t think I can get over that you know. I never told anyone about it because it was so embarrassing to go through stuff like that.’

Spencer started using hard drugs at a young age to block things out. He spent very little time at high school and struggles to read and write. He also became involved in criminal activity and is currently serving a jail sentence.

He said the abuse has had an impact on his ability to trust people and he has struggled to hold relationships together. He is very embarrassed and shy about his body, which makes life difficult in prison, where there is so little privacy.

‘I can’t go to the toilet in front of anyone, especially when [the guards are] standing there watching you. I’ve said before “I can’t do this, it’s not natural for me to do this, something happened to me when I was a kid”.’

He does not want to report the abuse to police, as he said, ‘I’m just worried that my name will get put out there and everyone will know and I’ll be embarrassed. I don’t want to have to go through courts and stuff’.

He believes his sister was also sexually abused while in foster care in Western Australia. It was speaking to her that made him think about coming forward to the Royal Commission. But he is also extremely worried about his young son.

‘The only reason I’m speaking really is my son’s in foster care now in NSW and I thought this could happen to him. I’m just worried that something bad could happen like that … I’m constantly worried if he’s going to be all right.’

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