‘I’m still homeless. In my head. You could put me in a mansion … I’m always a street person.’
Val grew up in Sydney in the 1960s. His mother was physically and intellectually disabled and unable to look after him. As a small child, Val was moved around, living with different relatives of his stepfather’s. He was treated cruelly. He remembers, when he was four, being forced to eat hot chillies as punishment for wetting his pants.
At around six or seven years of age, Val was taken into care and placed in a Presbyterian home for children. He can’t recall why this happened. For Val, his life of cruelty continued. His house parents would frequently beat him and punish him in other ways. After he went into care, Val lost contact with his mother. ‘I felt that she abandoned me, and now I look at it, she didn’t abandon me at all. She had disabilities. She couldn’t look after herself.’
Val didn’t have a family to go to during school holidays so, as a high school student, was allowed to go to a beachside cottage the children’s home owned. It was there, at the age of 12 or 13, that Val was sexually abused by a boy, Duncan, who was two years older. The abuse included rape and being forced to perform oral sex. Duncan continued to abuse Val for about a year. ‘Although he was a bully - he was very strong too - he would be tormented by … a lot of other children, teenagers … they would grab him and push him … but he wouldn’t hit them back.’
At one point Val’s house parents questioned him and asked if he was having sexual contact with Duncan. Val felt so ashamed by the abuse, that he told them he wasn’t. The abuse stopped when Duncan left care.
An immediate impact for Val was that he didn’t want to look at girls, as a teenager - at a time when his football teammates, for example, all had girlfriends. This heightened Val’s sense of isolation. He spent school lunchtimes in the music room with his guitar. His mother gave him the ‘gift of music’ and it has been a source of solace throughout his life.
Because of being force-fed chillies as a child and forced to perform oral sex as a teenager, Val doesn’t like putting things in his mouth. To this day he finds it difficult to clean his teeth as it involves putting a toothbrush in his mouth.
Val left school - and care - when he completed Year 10. He had very poor grades and believes that’s because he is dyslexic but never diagnosed. Val also believes he is, to some degree, intellectually disabled himself.
He went to live with relatives but it didn’t work out as they expected him to get a job and pay them some rent. He couldn’t cope. He was sacked from two jobs and eventually left to live in various youth hostels or a park. It was at this time, at the age of 18, that Val became a sex worker. By now it was the 1980s and during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Val noticed many of his clients getting sick so he decided, for his own safety, to live in a sexual relationship with one of his clients, rather than work the streets. For Val it was purely pragmatic.
However, given his new circumstances, it was difficult for Val to develop a relationship he had started with a woman. In order to attain some financial independence and therefore some freedom, Val started selling drugs and became quite successful at it. Although he was never imprisoned for dealing, this Kings Cross lifestyle led to many complications with police, leaving Val traumatised and fearing for his life.
‘I’ve got so much other trauma in my life to deal with, that the sexual abuse now is like a small issue, yet it was a huge issue of my life.’
Val went interstate to start afresh. Although he hasn’t yet put his past behind him, living in a different state for the past 20 years has worked. He has supportive friends as well as three cats. Being a cat-lover is something else he inherited from his mother.