‘I come from a fairly tumultuous sort of background. My father left the family unit when I was four … My mother [died] the following year. I was placed in a number of foster placements … shuttled around a fair bit.’
Tom was made a ward of the state in New South Wales before his mother died because she ‘was not a very competent parent’.
Tom’s grandmother persuaded his aunt and uncle to foster him. Because they had a child with severe health issues, fostering Tom proved to be too stressful for them. ‘I … was always going to be a high-needs child … They said I wasn’t emotionally sort of apt, and that … I didn’t try to fit in. I didn’t try to display any emotional love. But I was a wee child. I don’t know how they could have expected … ’
In the early 1970s, when Tom was eight, he was sent to a boys’ home. ‘The sexual abuse started after I’d been in care there for about a few weeks … [and it] went on for about three weeks.’
‘They used to have these older children there … [They] had left school but were still accommodated by [the boys’ home] … They were the ones that were responsible for the abuse … It wasn’t any of the carers. It was the older kids.’
The first time the abuse occurred, it ‘was very traumatic for me. I had this guy … broke my nose … forced me into sexual acts … I was trying to fight, but after being punched … I was punched into submission … [He] just left me in a state where I was dishevelled.’
Sexual abuse by the older boys was common in the younger boys’ dormitory. ‘It was really scary to be … there at times. You’d just be hanging there going, “Hope it doesn’t happen to me. Hope it’s not going to be happening to me” … It was horrible.’
A group of boys sexually abused Tom on two occasions. After the final assault, Tom ran away with another boy. They stayed in squats for several nights, before being caught by the police while stealing food. ‘I was eight. I wasn’t the type of kid that would run away. I was fairly grounded and I was trying to just be stable … [But] I had to do something.’
Tom tried to tell the police about the sexual abuse, but he ‘was hysterical … It was all coming out in a big sort of muddled-up mess, but I didn’t want to go back there’. When he went back, he was put in a different section, with younger children, out of harm’s way.
Tom did report the abuse while he was at the home, but because he had been in a few fights, the carers labelled him as a troublemaker and just brushed it off.
Tom went back to his aunt and uncle’s place for about five years, and was doing really well at high school. He wanted to complete his Higher School Certificate, but his foster parents wouldn’t let him. They told him they wanted him to leave, so he moved into a boarding house, and has lived in boarding houses and hostels ever since.
In the late 1990s, Tom was diagnosed with ADHD. ‘I’d been waiting my whole life for that. The psychiatrist said that I was developmentally disadvantaged as a result of growing up in this tumultuous environment.’
One night in the early 2000s, Tom was violently attacked by a group of men when he was walking along the street. He said that the attack ‘was something I didn’t need. I was starting to come good. Starting to make some headway … [The assault] put me in a really bad place’.
For many years after the assault, Tom had to take strong painkillers, and stop taking his ADHD medication, which had been very beneficial. Today, he does not drink or smoke or take illegal drugs.
Tom told the Commissioner, ‘My social life and relationships aren’t good. I find it difficult to trust people. I get aggressive towards people … who aren’t respectful of other people … I really have a big chip on my shoulder because of it. It can make me aggressive. I’ve been in jail … for assault’.
The sexual abuse is something that Tom has ‘hid my whole life. I don’t really appreciate talking about it. In the context that it can be of help or benefit for the future, yes, I’m willing to open myself up, even put myself in sort of the light where I don’t want to be in. I don’t want people knowing these personal things about me.’
Although compensation might help in some ways, what Tom really wants is ‘to get myself working and training, living a productive life. That’s what I want to do. I’m not worried about apologies or anything like that. I want to get myself functioning in a practical sense … Not the excuses, apologies. I don’t want to know about anything [like that]’.
Tom said ‘I’m preoccupied with the abuse that I suffered in care and constantly think about it. I find it hard to forget … block it out … It’s been like this for 40 years … Other people are preoccupied by their families, their social environments, their work, their sports or whatever else … I’m preoccupied completely by this abuse … and I’ve never been able to get past it my whole life. That’s what’s been the big setback for me. While other people are preoccupied by positive things, I’m not … At this point I’m not going very well at all.’