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Vinnie Lewis's story

Vinnie spent his first years living with his parents who were both violent and heavy drinkers. Then in the late 1960s, five-year-old Vinnie was taken by his mother to a Sydney Salvation Army boys’ home.

‘When I went there at five, I sat on the step waiting for my mum to come back ‘cause she said that she’d be back in an hour’, Vinnie said. ‘And she never come back.

'So within two years I’d had the cane that many times it wasn’t funny. I’d had the cane stuck in me bum hole. I had the old fella smacked with a cane, told I was going to be nothing but a poofter. “You’re in a home, you’re going to be gay, that’s all there is to it”.’

Captain Hanks was the most violent and cruel staff member that Vinnie remembers and the one who sexually assaulted him with a cane on numerous occasions. Another, Mr Clarence, would take Vinnie for drives and during these occasions, sexually abuse him as well.

Vinnie also remembers being given hot chocolate before bed by Clarence and waking up in the middle of the night with other adults in the room. He thinks at these times he was drugged and sexually abused.

He was also ‘molested by other kids’.

‘I was getting peed on and the officers did nothing. I had pee in my mouth and the officers didn’t do nothing. The officers stood over in the corner watching it while the older guys done it. They didn’t care. You were only a kid; if you weren’t one of their favourites, you got nothing, and I wasn’t a favourite because I got caned.’

At 10, Vinnie was still a ward of the state when his mother came to collect him from the home. Back in the house, Vinnie was forced to lie on top of his mother by his new stepfather and have sex. ‘I ran away that next day’, he said.

Until the age of 15, Vinnie lived in squats around Kings Cross with other boys. ‘We’d go out bashing poofters or something, or robbing people for money just to live on while we were in the street, 'cause you had nothing, you know. You had to survive on whatever you could.’

When he was 15, Vinnie found himself in court after his mother told NSW Police and the magistrate he was ‘uncontrollable’. He was sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention centre.

‘Ever since then I been in and out of jail 'cause I can’t read and write. The only thing I learned how to do was steal and I was good at it, and that was how I learned to live.’

Vinnie said he grew up hating women and gay men, and his criminal record includes stealing and violent offences. At the time of speaking to the Royal Commission, he hadn’t been in jail for 15 years. He put this down to the support he received from his wife, Sharon.

‘We broke up after fighting an argument out and me being a male, chauvinist pig. But she kept coming back and I couldn’t understand why she kept coming back when I was doing everything wrong.

'And I thought the only way I could get rid of her was to play up behind her back and do things like that, but it didn’t work. I look back and I went, "Wow, this one cares for me. This one really wants to stop me".’

Until 2015, Vinnie had thought of his childhood abuse as ‘a dream’, but when he heard news reports of others' abuse in the boys’ home, he ‘burst out crying’.

Although he’d previously told Sharon that he’d been ‘molested in the home’, he hadn’t discussed the abuse in any detail until six weeks before speaking to the Commissioner. Since then, he’d been in contact with a support service and was receiving counselling for the first time. He’d also begun the process of seeking compensation from the Salvation Army.

‘I want to go the Salvation Army. I want them to pay for my life. The life they gave me, I had shit. The life that they had was paid every week. They were sitting pretty.

'Why can’t I have the money that they earnt? I don’t want their million or two million or three million. I’ll settle for five hundred thousand, just to make their pockets a bit shallower – and to get it out there that if you’re going to stuff with kids, it’s coming out of your pockets. It’s not coming out of the government or the taxpayer; it’s coming out of the pocket of the person that done it. And the Salvation Army ain’t broke. I know they’re not.

‘In a way I look at the Salvation Army: they took us off the street, yeah. But they made my life hell and in one way I thank them for taking me off the street but the other way I just wanted to kill, and that’s made me hate them more because of what they did.

'If they just didn’t do any of that it would have been fine. I think we were just the unlucky ones. I don’t know.’

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