Toby James's story

Toby came to Australia from Europe with his parents when he was 10 years old in the early 1960s. It was a loving family of ‘struggling migrants’. Both his parents worked hard, and Toby found himself unsupervised and with time on his hands. ‘A couple of boys, we used to get into a bit of trouble here and there’, he told the Commissioner. ‘Steal a couple of cars and that sort of stuff.’

In his early teens Toby was picked up by the police and came before a magistrate more than once. When he was 15 he was sent to a state-run remand home in Sydney’s inner west. It was a short stay.

‘In that two week period I saw a lot of horrible things. You could see that the screws, the people that were in charge … there were some there that were tampering with some of the boys.

‘When you first come in you have to strip off to get into the khaki clothes, and they’d have you standing there for about an hour, naked, and it was a sexual thing as far as the screw was concerned. ‘Cause he was making us stand there naked for his own gratification, not for punishment.’

Toby was approached by a ‘priest’ – he can’t remember which denomination – with an offer. ‘He came up to me and said, “Look, I can get you out on bail but you have to come to sessions once a week – just counselling”.’ Toby agreed.

‘When I came up for my first mention in the courtroom he stood up for me and said I was prepared to take counselling. And Mum and Dad both thought that was a good idea.’

Toby was duly released by the magistrate without a conviction recorded. Within a week he presented himself to the priest for his first counselling session.

‘Well, he was just a dirty old man. He asked me how many times I masturbated and would I like to be masturbated by him and all that sort of stuff. So it got a bit ugly.’

Toby refused the proposition and ran from the session. He immediately told his parents, who agreed he would not be going back to see the priest again. They did not report the matter to the police, however. Toby believes his parents’ experience in an occupied country during World War II had taught them to keep their heads down and avoid talking to authorities.

Toby left school young and began an apprenticeship. He married in his teens and began a family. His marriage lasted over two decades. He doesn’t believe his brush with sexual abuse has affected him greatly, but he admits he was hyper-vigilant with his own children. ‘I’m a very protective parent. I used to walk my kids to school, and I used to pick them up. If I take them to anywhere I’d go there and sort of case the place out.’

Criminal circles appealed to Toby as he grew older. ‘I chose to be a bit of a knockabout’, he admits. He has served two long stretches in prison.

Toby believes child sexual abuse is common and frequently covered up. He is pessimistic about the work of the Royal Commission.

‘It’s too widely spread. It’s not just a few people here and there. You’ve got organisations of these people. It’s like the mafia.’

He thinks helping children report any sexual abuse is missing the point. ‘You need more regulation so it doesn’t happen. You need to stop it before it happens. You need more monitoring. You need somebody who can actually read the play. A lot of these people can’t read the play.’

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