‘In the 70s it was I believe common for corporal punishment [to be used] in children’s homes. For some of the staff and Brothers and carers it was a simple way to get their kicks. First they would cane me until I screamed, then some would sexually abuse me until I was often no longer making a noise or resisting – only then would it stop.
‘After a while the abuse or sexual act simply became some sort of love and affection, because if you didn’t want to be strapped or caned, with a feather duster or jug cord, you gave in quickly and accepted the alternative. By the time I was 14 or 15 I knew more about sexual perversion and abuse with violence than most others had even read about or seen in movies.’
Vincent was only a toddler when his dad was sent to prison, and he grew up with his mother, stepfather and siblings. When he was around eight years old he was placed in out-of-home care, and at some stage made a state ward.
He was sent to a government-run reception centre in Melbourne. One of the staff, Michael, would come into Vincent’s room at night, stroking and cuddling him in his bed, ‘but not in a sexual manner’.
One time when Vincent and a friend ran away from the home, they met up with a man who took them into his house, ‘which was really good, we were out of the cold and got to sleep in a warm bed’.
It soon became apparent that this man was only caring for the boys so he could sexually abuse them, and he invited a friend ‘to share us’. Vincent didn’t see this abuse as being too unusual. ‘Food, lollies, along with affection and kindness, made it all okay. After all, this was normal.’
Vincent remembers there was a court case about this incident, but not the result of it. By the time he was 12 ‘I had been abused not only sexually, but mentally, physically’ by many people who were meant to care for him. He moved around a lot of different homes, often experiencing harsh corporal punishments.
When he lived in an orphanage in regional Victoria run by a Catholic Order, he was sexually abused by a number of Brothers.
‘I clearly remember the pain, and being hurt each time I made too much noise ... I soon learned not to resist. I would let them do what they needed to do so it would be over quicker and I wouldn’t get smacked.’
Vincent regularly wet the bed, so would get up in the night to change his sheets or shower. Some of the Brothers took advantage of this to abuse him in the bathrooms.
A friend of the Brothers often visited the orphanage. This man, Damien, would take some of the boys out to his house. ‘There was lots of grooming, nice things, taking you to nice places. And then there was always the consequence of that.’
This consequence was sexual abuse, including Damien raping him, and making him perform sexual acts on him and another boy. He never spoke to this boy about what happened.
Vincent does not remember ever being visited by a caseworker, and didn’t frame what was happening as abnormal. ‘The truth of the matter is that I had no idea what I was experiencing wasn’t normal – wasn’t every child going through this?’
The abuse ended when Vincent left the orphanage in his early teens. He stopped going to school, due to low attendance and poor grades, and began using drugs and alcohol so ‘I could continue to hide my real feelings and emotions’.
He also started committing crimes, and served time in prison for various offences.
‘I found I was always a very angry young man, with no direction into the future.’
Vincent met his wife in the mid-80s, and ‘began to feel feelings and emotions I could never imagined to feel so good’. His outlook changed, he was quickly able to find work and he stopped using drugs.
Still, he found sexual intimacy difficult. ‘I’ve never enjoyed any forms of sexual relationships. I often felt sex was more like a chore, and never gained any satisfaction or gratification from it.’
Until recently Vincent wasn’t able to tell his wife about the sexual abuse. ‘I have always felt grossly ashamed of the things that happened in my childhood, and felt if I told my wife the details she may have rejected me. And like when I was a child and not believed or understood, not wanting to lose the one person who I felt loved me just for who I am.’
The submission he wrote to the Royal Commission was the first time he had ever gone into detail about the abuse. He gave his wife a copy. Although upset he had not confided in her earlier, she is supportive. He didn’t feel he could tell any authorities about the abuse – ‘after all it was the people in authority abusing me’ – but is now considering taking civil action.
Vincent is currently in prison for child sex offences. ‘I need to make it go away. I’ve gone to jail for similar sorts of things – it’s not me.’ He realises he needs therapy to deal with the trauma of the abuse he experienced, and to avoid re-offending.
‘I need to move forward from here in my life, with no fear or shame or guilt. I’m a good person, a good father, a good husband, that doesn’t need to continue carrying my childhood any further.’