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Vinnie's story

Vinnie first experienced sexual abuse as a six or seven-year-old, in the mid-1970s. It happened often over the next six or so years. Vinnie was living with his mother and siblings in a housing commission home in an outer suburb of Sydney. His father had left the family when they moved there, and his children hardly saw him after that. His mother had become an alcoholic, and there was a pub across the road from where they lived. ‘That was it’, Vinnie said.

‘My mum wasn’t a good mum, back then. She wasn’t a good mum at all. She cared about herself, cared about drinking, and cared about screwing other men and getting money.’ After a night at the pub she’d come home with men. ‘Strangers used to come back and they’d come in my room.’ Years later Vinnie learned one of his brothers had also been sexually abused by these visitors. As a child, Vinnie confronted his mother. ‘She just blew it off’, he said.

His education went off the rails early on. ‘I was brain dead’, he told the Commissioner. ‘I had nothing in my head. It was empty up there … I had one teacher who used to try and be nice and that but I just didn’t trust anyone.’

As a 12-year-old, he began self-medicating with alcohol and marijuana. He was angry, he said. ‘Very angry … I hated the world.’ At his local government high school, he started getting into trouble. He was sent for punishment, he’s not sure to whom – it might have been the deputy principal, or the principal himself. This man made Vinnie strip and stand on a chair, then he’d fondle Vinnie’s genitals and hit him with a cane. When Vinnie told his mother she didn’t believe him.

Vinnie’s behaviour deteriorated. Deemed ‘uncontrollable’, he was sent to a training school for boys. Yet more abuse, physical and sexual, occurred here. Vinnie wasn’t the only victim – there was a group of them, he said. They were put into isolation cells and sexually assaulted and beaten. ‘We couldn’t tell no one. We couldn’t trust anyone there.’ Vinnie also remembered the public humiliation of being made to stand naked in a corner of the lounge room. ‘They’d whack you with things and do things they shouldn’t do’, he remembered.

Home again, Vinnie found nothing had changed. ‘Parties at the house. Strangers there again.’ With the help of one of his brothers, he found a job some distance away. Due to start work early in the morning, he was invited by his new boss to stay the night. He plied Vinnie with alcohol until Vinnie passed out. Halfway through the night Vinnie woke up to find his boss sexually assaulting him.

Vinnie didn’t tell anyone about these incidents. He moved in with his brother and got menial work. But it didn’t last long. ‘I never kept a job. I was too much off my head.’ He started getting into trouble with the law, mostly for stealing. He was usually ‘pinching food’, he said, because there was none at home.

‘I started getting on drugs, and then getting on the heavy drugs, and my life went down from there … I started first on alcohol, and then I went to pot, and then I went from pot to speed and that’s what I been on all my life.’

Vinnie was first sent to jail as a 17-year-old. He’s been in and out of prison since then but mostly in. Now in his late 40s, he’s done some 30 years of jail time and when he spoke to the Commissioner was facing a new sentence. He expected it would be for three to five years. His crimes relate to his drug use and his drug use relates to being sexually abused. The abuse affected him ‘big time’, he told the Commissioner. ‘It still does.’ The drugs help him block it out. ‘The worst time is when I’m trying to sleep. That’s the worst. I see things.’

Vinnie has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder and is medicated for these. He has never reported his abuse to police or sought redress as he can’t identify his abusers.

He has plans for this upcoming prison term. Previously he hasn’t taken advantage of what the system offers him. He was on the drug court program for a while and had weekly sessions with a psychologist which he found valuable. ‘I enjoyed it. It helped me a lot. It slowed me down. But then a couple of months later I just get dragged back to the same thing.’ He disclosed his abuse to the psychologist, the first time he’d told anyone. ‘But back then – I’m a stubborn person. I didn’t think I had a problem.’

Vinnie’s changed his mind about that now. ‘I’m going to get all the help I can this time. Like I said, all this time I’ve never cared about nothing. Just get out and do the same thing.’ He hopes he’ll able to access a drug rehab program in jail and wants counselling from a psychologist. Hoping he’ll be able to work, and save some money Vinnie will give it to his daughter, the oldest of his kids, to help her get through university.

When he gets out of jail he’s ‘staying away from everything’, Vinnie said. He is in a stable relationship now with a partner who’ll support him. And he had a visit from his daughter some months ago.

‘We had a good talk and she told me straight out. She said “Dad, get help”. I said, “I’ll get help”. She said … if I ever walk back in this place again she doesn’t want me in her life. And I’m not missing out on my grandkids.’

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