‘I don’t mind if anything that I tell you, or anything that comes from that, helps some kid or adult not go through … anything like what I’ve been through, then [speaking to the Commission is] worth it.’
In the early 70s child services removed Symon from his mother’s care. He was only three months old. He was placed in a Perth government-run home and soon after adopted as an only child.
His adopted father was an incredibly violent man and physically abused Symon from the beginning of his life with his adopted parents.
‘I’d pissed him off one day and he grabbed me, pulled my pants down, put me over his knee, grabbed the piece of wood, took it, and without realising there was some nails sticking out the end of it, proceeded to thrash me with it, across the backside … When he saw the blood coming down the backs of my legs, he stopped briefly then hit me a few more times for good measure.’
His injuries were often so severe that Symon was regularly taken into care by child services. ‘Every time I’d get taken away by welfare I kept getting given back.’
When Symon stayed in government-run homes he was frequently sexually abused.
When he was three or four years old, ‘… a young girl who would have been about eight or nine years old … took me into a backroom and stripped me naked and herself naked and showed me how to urinate inside of her’.
In a later residential care home, he was regularly sexually abused by an older child.
‘When I was pretty much 6, 7, 8, years old [I was forced] to engage in oral sex with him [at the centre]. They had this rather stupid habit of putting little kids in with pubescent kids.’
At the same time that Symon was being abused in care, when he was returned to his parents, his parental physical abuse had turned sexual.
‘The real abuse started with my adopted parents … that started out as two years of sexual abuse where my father proceeded to … strip all of us naked and for two years forced me to engage in sex with my mother. I was six years old until I was eight.’
He believes the sexual abuse stopped when he was eight years old because his parents began a rehabilitation program for their alcoholism. The physical abuse, though, continued.
‘He left me nervous as a kid to a point where people can’t come up behind me and touch me on the back of the head … otherwise I snap and I just flashback to him and I go nuts.’
The physical abuse also continued in the residential centre he was placed in whenever he was removed from his parents. The abuse was between children but also from some staff.
‘There was … a group worker who was quite a vicious individual … he used to put us in … a form of punishment used in government homes at the time called ‘time out’ … where you would have to face the wall for five minutes and not engage in conversation or eye contact or anything, just stand there. And if you didn’t do that [the worker’s] favourite thing was to come up with a table tennis bat and smack you in the head with it.’
Another form of punishment had a significantly debilitating effect on Symon.
‘There’s what they called the “quiet room” … I wouldn’t put a dog in this room. Three foot by three foot, bare grey concrete floor, window about 10 foot high in the room. Locked in there. And there’s nothing in there, there’s no table, there’s no chair, there’s no cushion, no carpet, no toilet – there’s no nothing. Ten minutes to an hour depending on how much punishment you were deemed to need … you’d be left in there … until you calmed down.
‘The idea was that, “If you calmed down, we’ll let you out”, otherwise we’ll just lock you in there and leave you there”. It was … terrifying.’
Symon had also been warned by his adult abusers, including his father, that no one would believe him.
‘I was left in no doubt by any and all abusers that you know, speaking of this to anyone would result in me either being locked up, called a liar, they would deny everything and, because they were the adult, they would be believed and I wouldn’t be.’
Despite this, he tried to tell people about both the sexual and physical abuse he received. No one seemed to take it seriously.
‘I did try and tell people but it just seemed like nobody from teachers to group workers, nobody really wanted to know. They saw the bruises. They could see me limping because my legs were that heavily bruised.’
He believes that staff at the centre turned a blind eye.
‘For them to say that they were not aware of anything happening isn’t just an admission it’s a downright lie. Because somebody had to see something: kids walking around with black eyes and bruises and lumps on their heads and – how can you not see that if you’re in a duty of care position.’
The flipside of the centre was that there were a few workers who took extra care with the children and he had many exhilarating adventures on the beach because of them.
‘There was a great deal of nastiness but there were also other things that weren’t … that I have fond memories of, the problem is they are marred by all these, sort of, blood thirsty attitudes of certain people.’
Symon suffers from claustrophobia and anxiety and can’t manage in stressful situations. He reacts either by blacking out, experiencing a panic attack or losing control and violently responding. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of all of his abuse. The challenge for Symon is to manage his condition.
‘I understand it on an intellectual level from the grounds of PTSD … it’s one thing to understand something intellectually, it’s another to come to grips with it emotionally.’
He has spent years on anti-psychotic and behaviour management drugs, including as a child when he was in care, and when he was in his late teens he became addicted to illicit drugs.
‘My parents threw me out of the house because the government money stopped … I was 16, they put me on sickness benefits because I was a ward of the state … and I’ve been there ever since … I spent 17 years crawling into a needle.’
Symon has managed to piece together his life with great difficulty but is now taking steps towards a more peaceful future. He has made a police statement naming his abusers and is hoping to receive some form of compensation for the extensive mistreatment and abuse he suffered.
‘I was abused in foster care. I was abused in public. I was abused in government care. I was abused in my own adopted home. Not once have I had an apology, one tiny bit of compensation – nothing.
‘Because of my own particular mental attitudes and conditions have made me – I retreated from society a lot and for very long periods of time and I was totally unaware of the [WA] redress scheme until it was a few weeks after it had ended …
‘What pissed me off the most about the redress thing was that he [the politician] put an arbitrary expiration date on compensation. Where’s my arbitrary expiration date on my pain?’
He believes all survivors of abuse deserve compensation.
‘You can allow them some monetary amount that allows them to at least begin to live in their life instead of just surviving and it shows them that somebody actually gives a damn.’
Symon doesn’t really sleep and is plagued with anxiety.
‘Some days I can’t even walk out the door, I’ll get to the front door and I’ll freeze, just completely rooted to the spot … This happens sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes it won’t happen for months.’
Symon’s recommendations for the management of children in care include the complete separation of genders, including staff, and that different aged children should not be placed together.
‘Little girls should not be put with little boys especially when they’ve both been abused. Or it’s guaranteed they’re going to act out. That little girl when I was very young, that’s what she was doing. She was acting out the abuse that she’d – trying to in her own childlike way, trying to make sense of something that was beyond her understanding.’