When Stirling was nine his uncle Joe would sometimes pick him up after school on a Friday so they could spend the weekend together. It was the late 1970s and Joe would often ‘give me a beer ... I was young, but still, he gave me a beer. And sometimes I couldn’t remember anything after that. Whether it was just me or the beer or whether he put something in it – I used to black out’. While Stirling was unconscious Joe would sexually abuse him, and Stirling remembers ‘he made me pull his penis’.
One time when Stirling was 12 he woke up bleeding from his anus on one of these visits. ‘I went home after seeing him. I’ve said to me mum, I’ve said, “I’ve got a sore bum” and that, yeah. She goes, “I bet you it was your uncle Joe”. You know, the way she said it and that, she knew. He’d done something like that before probably, I don’t know ... After that I got barred from seeing him.’ This matter was never reported to police.
Around this time Stirling was also sexually abused by a Catholic priest, Father Bradfield. The priest ran youth camps in regional Victoria, and Stirling attended a couple of these. Father Bradfield had a favourite boy ‘and he used to sleep with him and stuff like that. But I didn’t know whether anything happened there’.
When Stirling first went to the priest’s house after one of these camps, there were many other kids there.
‘I sat on the couch. And I’m the only one on the couch, the rest are all running around like maniacs. And then they all started getting their clothes off, like they all knew what was going to happen. And then he said to me, he goes “Look, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want. It’s your first time here”.
‘And they all got into a line naked, and like played “pick up the soap”. It was just stupid. I didn’t know what to make of it, you know what I mean ... It played on me mind for a long time. I just stopped going round there after that.’
Stirling thinks the priest ‘was probably trying to groom me or something. In hindsight I can see what he was getting at’. He remembers Father Bradfield was also ‘physical’ with him during martial arts lessons – ‘the odd hand would go here and there, but we all thought it was part of the thing’. Later on he learned that Father Bradfield was reported for sexually abusing kids at some stage and ‘he got locked up for it’.
After leaving school in Year 9 Stirling got a job, but soon got into taking drugs and committing crime. Over the next few years he spent time in juvenile detention and adult prison.
In his late 20s Stirling violently assaulted a man in a park, believing this man had been sexually abusing young children in the toilet block. ‘It made me angry. It brought something out that had never showed its head before. And I lost the plot on the bloke. I couldn’t do much about it – it just happened.’
Stirling has spent many years in prison for violence against this man and another related person, and still has more time to serve. He now feels ‘a lot of regret’ about these incidents. ‘I felt like I was doing the right, but I wasn’t, I was doing the wrong.’
During his incarceration ‘I done the violence course here and it helped a lot. The people that ran it were great ... They done a lot of following up afterwards and that helped me a lot. It made me see what I was doing wrong where, how I was overreacting with some other things. Put a lot into perspective’. Since then his behaviour has changed, and ‘I’ve been happy with m’self for once ... I’m not as negative with me outlook’. Other people have noticed these changes too.
He has also spoken with counsellors and psychologists in jail about the abuse. ‘When I’m stressed and like I get feeling low and that ... Just everything catches up with me eventually, and I gotta let it out somehow. And I talk about it. It’s good to talk about it.’ He has been diagnosed with depression (‘part of jail I suppose’) and ‘borderline’ paranoid schizophrenia.
Stirling speaks a lot to other inmates who have also been sexually abused, and helps them however he can. ‘They open up to me. I’ll talk to them any time, I’ve told them that. And I’ll keep doing it. They need someone here to do that.’