Vince Tom's story

Vince was born with an intellectual disability and describes himself as a ‘naughty’ child, whose parents found it difficult to look after him.

In the 1990s Vince was removed from his parents’ care at the age of eight, and placed with a family in a small Western Australian town. This family was ‘wonderful’ to Vince and he was very happy to live with them.

It wasn’t long, however, before he was moved to a different foster home. He was given a new caseworker and he believes that they didn’t read his file properly.

This new placement was with Catriona Poole, a single woman who had health issues. Poole drank a lot of alcohol and smoked cigarettes, letting Vince smoke on several occasions.

Vince was physically abused by Poole several times, being beaten with a bamboo stick whenever he was ‘naughty’. On one occasion when Poole was heavily intoxicated she sexually abused Vince. He recalls her being ‘open’ about women and their private parts.

‘She was showing me vibrators and where to stick them. She showed me pornographic movies when I was eight.’

After this incident Vince’s behaviour towards girls ‘changed instantly’. He became more sexualised at school and sometimes acted this out in front of the teachers. At the time he ‘didn’t know it was wrong’ but now wonders why no one said anything about this behaviour.

Vince got another caseworker and he disclosed the abuse to them when he was 12 years old. He was moved to another foster placement immediately after his disclosure, but believes that Poole was not reported to police. He was not provided with any counselling.

Vince didn’t stay at his new foster home for long. When he was 15 he ran away and moved into a government-run emergency accommodation hostel. There he was raped by an older resident named Connor, and also witnessed Connor raping one of the young female residents. He was present when this girl told a staff member about Connor, but does not think Connor was removed from the facility nor reported to the police.

‘I’m thinking he could be out there today, still doing it. Especially to little kids because that girl was quite young. She barely had pubic hairs and I saw the whole thing.’

Vince ran away from the hostel after the abuse was disclosed. He was disgusted that ‘nothing was done’, and dropped out of school because he ‘couldn’t cope’. He travelled around and lived on the streets for a couple of years, self-medicating with alcohol and experimenting with drugs.

‘I laugh in the face of danger because there’s nothing I haven’t seen or done.’

Vince has only told a small group of people about the sexual abuse by Poole and Connor. He never reported the perpetrators to the police because Poole is deceased and he never knew Connor’s last name. He is currently pursuing a compensation claim against the Department of Child Protection and Family Support.

He would love to see a change in the foster care system, and thinks that having fewer caseworkers would benefit the child. During his time in care he had six or seven caseworkers, and they never read his file properly or asked him why he was transferred from place to place.

Vince never returned to school and is financially dependent on a disability pension, receiving support from a number of services. He recently started counselling which he says has been ‘very helpful’.

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