‘They put us in a place where we were more abused than when in our own home with our own parents. They were supposed to look after us.’
Stanley’s parents drank a lot and fought a lot when he was young. His mother had been raised in an institution and he thinks she used alcohol to cope with her childhood experiences.
He and his siblings were taken into care in the 1970s. When he was eight, the boys were placed in a children’s home in regional New South Wales. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy, who referred to the boys by numbers instead of their names.
Stanley spoke to the Royal Commission, and provided a written statement, about his experiences there. ‘I want to be able to tell you everything that happened to me, but I am very uncomfortable talking about the details of my sexual abuse.’
Older boys often molested him, in the bathroom or dormitory. ‘You only ever went to the bathroom in groups to try and stay safe.’ Stanley also knew that Sister Canice was sexually abusing other boys in her bedroom.
Two older men, Simon and Graham, took the boys away on holidays. During these trips, the men ‘put me in sexual poses and photographs were taken of me’, and ‘older boys would sexually assault me too’.
Simon ‘just showed up one day at the home’, and ‘would often take the photographs of us boys. Many of these times were when the older boys would sexually assault us younger boys’. His house ‘was also seen as a drop-in centre for us boys. He would supply us cigarettes and alcohol’.
One time Stanley injured himself while staying at Graham’s place. When he asked for medical care, ‘Graham instead dragged me into his room and sexually assaulted me’.
Punishment was harsh at the home, and including being locked in a cage, ‘for a day or number of days at a time depending on what I had done wrong. I was only let out to go to the toilet, have meals and go to bed’.
The nuns also beat the boys. Sister Eugenia carried a long leather strap. ‘When it hit you it felt different to the other straps, almost like it had pieces of metal sewn between the layers. It hurt dreadfully.’
Sometimes the home would have people visit. ‘During these times the cage would not be used, normal punishment like the whips did not occur and the food was better.’ However, nobody from Welfare ever followed up on his individual wellbeing, and ‘there should have been checks and balances put in place’.
School was a welcome reprieve from the abuse at the home, even though the boys were often teased for being state wards. ‘We would have sandwiches thrown at us and would often hear them say, “Here have these, you poor starving things”.’
Stanley struggled with reading, due to an undiagnosed eye disorder (that could have been easily treated). He and the other boys played as much sport as possible, ‘for some kind of normality in our lives’.
It was only when he moved out of the dormitory into a ‘cottage’ run by Sister Sophia, that he was treated with compassion and kindness. ‘She would use time-out as our punishments, and not use the whip or cane. Violence was not used by her at all.’
Graham was eventually charged for sexual offences against the boys, when Stanley was 14. ‘When the photos of the sexual abuse became known, Sister Sophia helped me when I assisted the police in identifying the boys in the photographs. This was a very difficult thing for me to do.’
Another couple he sometimes stayed with, and who he considered ‘foster parents’, supported him with this process too. Stanley did not have to give evidence as Graham pleaded guilty. The police treated the boys well, but Stanley never found out Graham’s sentence. He believes Simon suicided before he could be charged.
Stanley did not disclose the other sexual abuse while at the home. He worried about being punished, and also the repercussions from the older boys. When he left at 16, ‘I received no ongoing support after this time. I received no counselling. I had been in care since I was eight years old’.
He struggled with alcoholism in his early 20s, and attempted suicide, before a lifelong friend came to his assistance. When he met his wife, almost 30 years ago, he suffered night terrors. She asked him about this and he disclosed the abuse to her.
His relationship with his mother suffered as he blamed her for his being in care. Now though, ‘I have forgiven her as she was also a product of the care system, and didn’t know any better’. Birthdays ‘just feel like any other day to me’, as they were not celebrated in the home. He struggles to maintain steady employment and has trouble trusting others.
He has experienced stigma and suspicion because of his time in care. When his daughter became ill as a small child, doctors blamed him and his wife, ‘stating that because I had been sexually abused and been in care it was probably it was our fault ... It was devastating to hear that’.
Stanley has never applied for compensation, but is considering it now. ‘We didn’t ask to be put in the situation we were put in ... It’s just about saying, “Here’s something to help you along your way. Yes, we are sorry for what happened to you”.’