‘I’d never heard of paedophilia or anything like that. I’d never heard of 15-year-old boys raping other boys. I wouldn’t have believed it till I actually saw it. When I witnessed it the first time I thought, “No, no, that’ll never happen to me”. And then it did.’
After getting into some legal trouble in the mid 1970s when he was 14, Sydney went on to spend the next four years in and out of the Victorian juvenile justice system. He did time at several government-run homes and one Salvation Army home. Everywhere he went, he encountered physical, mental and sexual abuse.
He told the Commissioner, ‘The first time I witnessed sexual abuse was when several boys coerced another boy to perform oral sex with promises and threats’. This happened in one of the cells at a government-run institution.
Sometime later Sydney was himself abused. One night his cellmate said that some other boys were planning to attack Sydney the next day. ‘He said, “If you want to, I can protect you”. I thought he was joking. I laughed and thought, “This is isn’t right”. And the next thing I know he was hitting me.’
Sydney was only a small, skinny boy at the time and no match for his attacker who was a hostile, violent criminal. ‘I tried to fight back but this boy was quite tall and solid, and my body could only take so much pain. I felt humiliated, angry and sick to my stomach. I hated myself.’
To make matters worse, the story of the sexual assault quickly spread through the institution and Sydney found himself ostracised by the other boys. What he didn’t know at this stage was that the story would soon spread to other institutions as well and his reputation as an ‘easy victim’ would precede him wherever he went.
Sydney absconded from the government-run centres a few times and was eventually sent to another centre run by the Salvation Army. Here he was subjected to a cruel initiation process.
‘Staff members amused themselves by taking me to the piggery so I could hear the squeals of piglets being knackered … It was deafening. It was quite scary and they seemed to enjoy our reactions.’
At night Sydney listened to a different kind of screaming as gangs of older boys invaded the cells of the younger ones and abused them.
He got into fights and made more escapes, and eventually wound up at a maximum security facility for serious offenders aged 15 to 18. One day some boys invited him round to their cell for a chat to pass the time.
‘I didn’t know that apparently they heard from early on at the remand centre that I was sexually abused, and they thought that they would do the same to me. So I was kind of set up … Anyway, these two boys they treated me almost like a dog, hitting and twisting my arms, and leaving bruises and kicking me around and everything like that. And it turned sexual.’
The boys started discussing all of the sexually violent things they were going to do to Sydney. Looking back, he believes that they were trying to get him into a ‘state of panic’ so that he would go along more easily with what they really wanted to do. It worked, and in the end they forced him to perform oral sex on both of them.
Sydney didn’t report the boys because he was afraid of reprisals, but the story came out when a staff member overheard the boys bragging about what they’d done. Sydney was taken to see the head officer who ‘made it out like it wasn’t any big sort of deal. He said we could sort this out within the section and no one else would have to know about it. I wouldn’t have to be ashamed of it. I thought it sounded like a good idea, because I was young and didn’t know about legal rights or anything like that’.
Later, Sydney found out that the head officer dealt with the situation by getting two of the older boys to bash the boys who had assaulted him.
Sydney escaped a few more times after that and committed some minor offences on the outside. At age 17 he was sent to an adult prison where he was brutally bashed on several occasions and witnessed many men being attacked and sexually assaulted.
He got out of jail just after his 21st birthday and has never been back. Still, the memories of the abuse stuck with him. When he was young he managed to cope by putting them out of his mind.
‘I went through a period where I blocked everything out, and that went on for probably like a good 15 years. I had good relationships, I had friends, I was playing sport, I was working.’
Then one day Sydney had what he describes as a ‘breakdown’. He suffered flashbacks, and went into a spiral of depression and self-medicating with marijuana and alcohol. Eventually he sought help from a psychologist and has been having regular counselling sessions ever since. He’s hoping to reclaim some of the life he had when he first got out of jail.
‘I’d like to get back to that stage where I can enjoy myself again.’