Virgil didn’t mind his school days in western Sydney, but admits that he was a hyperactive kid and couldn’t stop moving. He recalls one report card describing him as ‘a disturbing element’ and agrees that he was a bit more trouble than the average person.
When he was 13, he and a mate broke into a house, just for the thrill of it, but the residents came home and found them. ‘And that was the start of the end for me, really. Things started to go south relatively fast after that.’
This incident led to Virgil’s first stay at a juvenile justice centre and his first encounter with the deputy superintendent – a big man called John Owen. Owen called Virgil to his office one day and, as he was sitting down, said ‘“How’s the old fella?” ... or something like that, and touched me on the penis through the pants’.
Owen opened a box of cigarettes on his desk, a prized item in the centre, and showed them to Virgil. ‘I’d have to take you down home for you to have one of those’, he said.
After two or three of these visits, Virgil started getting called to Owen’s residence where he’d be given a cigarette and a glass of Scotch. Virgil remembers the comfortable recliner chairs and the knick-knacks Owen had around the house. As Virgil went around looking at things, Owen kept fondling him.
‘I remember thinking, “Oh … a bit sleazy” ... but I’m thinking “I’ll just go with this. I’m getting some whisky here and I’m getting cigarettes”.’
Owen also took Virgil for drives in his car and let him steer. Steering gave the 13-year-old a thrill, even though Owen was groping him at the same time. Virgil couldn’t believe it – there he was, officially in custody, but out driving on the open road.
The second time at the house, Owen laid Virgil on his bed and ‘gave me oral sex … slowly working up to it … which I despised. It was disgusting but I’m thinking, “I’m getting out of this remand centre … and I’m getting to have a cigarette and things”’.
Virgil was abused in this way a couple of times over a month and a half. He can’t remember exactly if it included anal sex but he’s pretty certain it did. He thinks he’s blotted it out and that he was probably a bit drunk as well. He does remember both of them lying naked from the waist down on the bed, with Owen on top of him.
After four months Virgil was moved to a very strict boys’ home. He remembers crying after his mother’s visits ended.
When he came down with tonsillitis he was put in the sick bay to recover. A male nurse told him he had to check for venereal disease and started licking and kissing his penis. ‘I thought, “This is a bit weird”.’
During the night shift the nurse came back. This time, after performing oral sex, he pinned Virgil down and raped him. The next night an officer from Virgil’s dorm, a man he was completely terrified of, came into the clinic. He’d seen this officer have oral sex with a boy in the toilets at night.
He came over to Virgil’s bed and started stroking his hair, saying, ‘Hopefully you’ll get well soon’. Then, after having oral sex with Virgil, he raped him.
It didn’t happen again but Virgil remained petrified. Two weeks later he was released. He moved back home and into a youth program.
Over the next four years, Virgil spent periods in the juvenile justice centre and was abused by John Owen every time. It was always the same routine – a smoke and drink and a drive. A woman was at his house once, he remembers. Owen told him that she wanted them to have a threesome once Virgil was released.
In the years following the sexual abuse, Virgil struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. He’d get drunk every time he thought about it. He’s been in and out of prison, is currently on methadone and serving the last months of a sentence.
He’s told no one what happened to him, apart from his mother and two other inmates who’d also been abused, and even then he kept the details to himself. He’s never had counselling. His talk with the Commissioner was the first time he’s disclosed much of the sexual abuse.
‘To me it was the dirtiest secret … when they ejaculated on me and that, I just felt so disgusting. I often thought of that. And I just couldn’t talk about it … with anybody.’
He admits that a lot of his relationships are just about sex and can see how the abuse wreaked havoc on his sense of self.
‘It has been popping its head up for years and I keep slowing it down with a drug here and a drug there but not anymore … it needs to be dealt with.’
Virgil’s optimistic about his future. He has plans to go into rehab to quit the methadone, and reconnect with his family, including the children he doesn’t know very well.
In terms of why he was abused in those two institutions, Virgil is convinced that staff had access to his files which contained details of the sex work he’d done in his early teens.
He recommends that sensitive histories like his should be kept confidential to stop abusers in positions of power from taking advantage.
‘I’d like to see the three people that abused me, and John Owen particularly, held accountable for what they did to me.’