Vince grew up in a troubled household in eastern Australia. In the early 1970s his mother had mental health issues and his father began verbally abusing him, calling him an idiot and forcing him to do manual labour around the house that was far too difficult for a boy of eight.
When Vince began high school, his first couple of years went well. He ‘had friends, enjoyed work, [was] reasonably behaved … no major problems of any sort. I was happy’. His sister, who accompanied him to the Royal Commission, described him as ‘cheeky … charismatic … he wasn’t ever bad … nothing malicious’.
Vince was often called to Des Wilson’s office for mucking around on the school bus. ‘Wilson started behaving towards me in a way I now realise was grooming. At the time, I thought he just liked me.’ Instead of punishing him, Wilson gave Vince money to buy sweets at the canteen, and told him to pretend to pick up rubbish in the school grounds.
Vince recalled another boy in his class, Brad, who also received a lot of presents from Wilson. When his father came to the school and ‘asked the headmaster about the appropriateness of Wilson’s attention towards Brad … he was reassured that Wilson was above board’.
Things were not going well for Vince at home, and when he was in Grade 9 he had a violent argument with his father. When Vince ran out into the street his father yelled, ‘If you go, don’t ever come back’.
Vince phoned Wilson and, ‘[he] said come down to … his flat. I spent the night there. He pretty much took advantage of that and … he made it very convenient for me to have somewhere to stay, and as soon as I started living there, that’s when the abuse started’.
Within the first week or two Wilson ‘started summoning me to his bed and having his way with me … pretty much on a daily basis … I felt pretty much trapped. I didn’t know what to do. I had nowhere to turn. I was sort of a prisoner in my own little nightmare’.
Vince was too embarrassed to tell anybody, and thought that the other kids in his class must know what was going on. Wilson encouraged Vince to stay away. ‘He more or less said to me, “You know, if you don’t feel like going to school, you’ll be right …”.’ Wilson promised that he would provide Vince with a certificate.
Vince managed to get away from Wilson’s flat for a while. He found a girlfriend and went to stay at her house. Wilson would go to the girl’s house and persuade Vince to come over and see him, so the abuse continued.
One day Wilson gave Vince and Brad some money, and they went into town for a drink. They were caught, and Wilson accompanied Vince to court when they were charged with underage drinking.
Wilson ‘let the courts know that my life was untenable with my father … He said that he’d be prepared to look after me … I ended up back at his house’. The abuse continued for about another year, before Vince got away and refused further contact with Wilson.
When he was living with Wilson, ‘he used to say to me, “Never be afraid to take your life if it all seems too much for you”. He’d say … “Suicide is an honourable thing to do if there’s no other way out”’.
When Vince was in his mid-20s, his mother told him that Wilson had taken his own life. There were rumours that a boy’s parents had made complaints to the school, but Vince doesn’t know if that is what happened.
Although Vince has had suicidal thoughts in the past, he has never attempted to take his own life.
When Vince was about 16 or 17, he and Brad confided in each other and discovered that their stories were much the same. Over the years, Brad said to Vince, ‘We’ve got to do something about it. We’ve got to say something’. Vince didn’t want to, because of the embarrassment.
Brad died several years ago, and Vince said he felt guilty. ‘He went to the grave with that … eating away at him and I thought to myself, if I ever get a chance, I will say something about it and then … [my sister] rang one night and she said, “Have you been following this Royal Commission stuff?”’ It was only then that Vince finally admitted to her that he’d been sexually abused by Wilson.
The impact on Vince’s adult life has been huge. He has been hospitalised for mental health issues. He has never had a long-term job. He’s been unable to maintain a relationship, and has trouble performing sexually. He used alcohol and drugs, to ‘put myself into a numb state and blank it out’. He has also been in trouble with the police.
His sister commented, ‘Vince would run around terrorising everybody on motorbikes and, obviously, he’s under the influence of substances … he’d been driven nuts by the drugs and all his other anxieties … [One time], I had to jump the back fence and go over to a public phone and call the police …’
At the end of his session, Vince told the Commissioner, ‘Feel free to use anything I’ve told you … to get the word out there that it really did happen, and the other people that it happened to should feel free to come forward and tell their stories as well’.