After Victor ‘got into trouble’ and began living on the streets as a 12-year-old in the late 1980s, he was picked up by New South Wales Police and sent to a residential facility run by the St John of God Brothers. Victor described the place as ‘horrible and scary from day one’.
In the facility, boys earned good behaviour points which they could put towards food and using the recreational facilities. Some boys got ‘credits’ to add to their points if they performed sexual acts on the Brothers. Physical abuse was routine and on one occasion Victor was thrown through a glass door after he’d misbehaved. He was taken to the sick bay and given Band Aids, but as the wounds continued to bleed he took himself to a local clinic where a doctor sutured his lacerated arms.
In the 13 months Victor was in the home, he was sexually abused by Brother George and Brother Angelo. Looking back he suspected the Brothers had some sort of organised system. Boys were often taken from their beds and it was worse when external Brothers stayed overnight at the facility.
Victor said that if the boys knew visiting Brothers were present, they’d set up ‘some pretty wild stuff so you wouldn’t get taken’. One night they short-circuited every radio in the school and caused ‘one hell of an explosion’ in order to keep staff busy and distracted.
At weekends, boys were permitted to go to their own homes, but most got notes from parents to say they were going to another boy’s house. On Friday afternoons the boys would then go as a group to Sydney and spend the weekend on the streets or with people they met along the way.
On one of these trips, Victor disclosed the physical abuse by the Brothers to several men he’d met and they gave him tips on how to handle himself. ‘They told me a lot of things to do and the sexual abuse stopped’, he said. ‘I choked a Brother with a telephone cable. I hit one in the head with a fire extinguisher. I sprayed one in the face with a fire extinguisher … The fire extinguishers were bolted down after that. They were accessible to everyone except the kids.’
On another of the trips to the city, Victor was with another boy when Brother George picked them up and took them to a motel. After coming out of the shower, Victor saw Brother George sexually assaulting the other boy and picked up a lamp and hit him in the face. The boys then fled and when they were returned to the facility by police, ‘it was hell on earth for a week or two’.
Victor was with a group of boys on the railway station one day when one of them told the others that he was being sexually abused by the Brothers.
‘He told us how he was getting abused and all we done was teased him’, Victor said. ‘We teased him about it and everything like that. Then he said, “I’ll jump in front of a train”, and we laughed at him. And then he did. But we were actually at that point in time on the run … so we just jumped the fence and left. It always hits back like … kids can be cruel. But that’s where I sort of say, it’s deaths within custody – not really within custody but caused by it. It was just a horrible joint, that joint.’
After leaving the facility, Victor said he blocked out a lot of the abuse. ‘I’ve always made the excuse, I suppose, I’ve stood up and been bulletproof. In the last four or five years it’s hit me like a ton of bricks, really.’
After media coverage of child abuse triggered memories, Victor made a statement to police and, at the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, was still liaising with them. He’d also contacted lawyers about a civil compensation claim. An earlier application through Towards Healing didn’t go well and he refused their offer of $10,000.
Victor said he knew of numerous ex-residents of the facility who’d died, many by suicide. He considered himself ‘lucky’.
‘I met my wife when we were 16. We got married early, two kids, we’re still together. She knows … She’s done very well to bear with me over the last four or five years, but probably the whole time, some of the stuff I do, to put up with me, she’s done well, to still be there. It’s probably at the moment it’s at the worst, like over the last four or five years it’s probably the worst of the situation, believe it or not. Figure that out.’
He said he’s always been vigilant with his children. ‘I got two girls and they’re forever telling me, “Settle down, Dad. I’m only going out. I’m only going here”. I find myself over-thinking the situation a lot and trying to analyse what’s going to happen or what could happen and, yeah, all that. Who knows?’
Victor hopes that things have changed and it’s safer now for children than when he was young. ‘These guys have got to be responsible for what they’ve done, and hey, you’d love to be able to sort of turn around and fix it and … not ever let it happen, like … create an institution where it’s not going to do that.
‘That’s unrealistic but it’s gotta be better than it was. I’m sure now it probably is better than what it was with a lot of the, I suppose now, the monitoring that goes on. I hope it’s better than what it was, anyway.’