Wilson was an infant when his mother died in the 1970s. While living with his violent father he was sexually abused for a few years by the older children of ‘so-called friends of the family’, starting when he was six.
He and one of his brothers ran away after his father physically assaulted him so badly he needed hospital treatment, and the Department of Community Services (DOCS) became involved. Despite this medical attention, when he and his brother went to court against his father for his violence towards them there was deemed to be insufficient evidence of physical abuse.
‘From what I can remember the outcome of it was that there was nothing conclusive. [It was argued that] because my brother and I both played soccer, all of the bruises on our bodies could have been from other reasons, so he was never found guilty of that.’
The boys had been in care during the trial, but afterwards Wilson’s brother returned home to his father. ‘I was absolutely frightened – I didn’t want to go home so I ended up remaining in care.’
Over a period of four years Wilson spent numerous stints at a short-term youth refuge run by the Marist Brothers in Sydney. When he was around 12 years old he was sexually abused by a man who sometimes visited the refuge. ‘I don’t believe he was a regular worker ... I don’t know if he was an official, or if he even worked with them, or whether he was a friend of someone who worked there.’
This man ‘took me four wheel driving one time, and things happened there’. Wilson did not report this abuse to anyone.
Between stays at the refuge Wilson was sent by DOCS to various foster placements. In the first of these he was placed with a couple. The husband was in his 50s and a war veteran, and would tell him ‘stories regarding some of the [sexual] things that him and some of the young male soldiers would do’. He then began sexually abusing Wilson, with this abuse becoming more severe over the nine months Wilson stayed there.
Wilson wonders whether the man’s wife was aware of his behaviour. ‘I have often thought about that. She was a very quiet woman, didn’t talk a great deal. It’s difficult to say. She’d have to have had her suspicions ... The fact that he would frequently come into the bathroom when I was in there showering. She had to have some sort of inkling, surely.’
A while later there was an investigation into allegations that this man had sexually abused his nephew also, and Wilson was asked if he had been abused too.
‘I had some police come to my door ... asking questions ... I just denied it, I didn’t want anything to do with it at that stage. I was thinking that part of my life was over, I didn’t need to think about it. In hindsight obviously that wasn’t the right choice.’
Wilson moved between other foster families and the refuge, then back in with his father, staying in a caravan in the garden. Although there was no further physical abuse, his father emotionally abused him.
‘For a period there I actually took up practising martial arts. And I think that was one of the things that steeled me to at least be confident with the emotional stress that he was putting on me, and provided a way of not having to think about these other things that had happened as well.’
He has never reported any of the sexual abuse to police. ‘On a number of occasions I’ve thought about it, but it has always been off-putting, just the thought of going through that whole thing.’ After speaking with the Commissioner he felt this is something he might be able to do now.
Wilson disclosed the abuse to a girlfriend some years ago, and ‘then not anyone else until I met my current girlfriend’. About 10 years ago they discussed having children together and ‘all of this stuff bubbled up’.
‘We got close and decided we wanted to start a family, and the thoughts of starting the family was what started to bring back those other memories, you know, the concept of family and those sorts of things. And then everything ... Just welled up all at once.’
He started drinking heavily. ‘It was obviously a suppressant basically I guess.’ After a while ‘for whatever reason, I had the urge to start self-harming’.
Wilson accessed mental health support during this time, was admitted to psychiatric care on several occasions and was given medication ‘basically to calm me down’. But he did not disclose the abuse.
More recently, however, he has told his psychiatrist. His self-harming stopped around the time he and his partner had their child. Wilson’s behaviours have caused difficulties in their relationship.
Wilson is currently on a disability support pension, having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.
When he thinks of his childhood his main feeling is anger and ‘a lack of being able to respond as a child, not having the tools to be able to respond. I think that’s the biggest issue I have with it’.
This is something he has thought about a lot recently, after his three-year-old daughter disclosed being touched inappropriately by another child in daycare.
‘I sat her down, and I explained to her that it wasn’t her fault and these things do happen – but we can’t let them happen and you need to tell somebody instantly, and don’t ever feel that you can’t talk about it.’
The centre had known of this incident but did not notify him or his partner, and he believes better education is required for people about the impacts of child sexual abuse.
‘They knew of it, because we spoke to them later about it ... But there was no paperwork written up on it, they hadn’t informed us of it. I don’t blame the school for it happening, but certainly their response to us was very inappropriate ... And there was a second instance happened, which was considerably worse, again involving children. But that time they told us about it and everything, but I get the impression that it hadn’t been dealt with.
‘And I think that’s the issue. If people aren’t aware or educated regarding how important these things are in shaping children, then there’s never going to be anything that’s going to change ...
‘I think the more times that these things happen to other children and it’s not dealt with, I really believe it will become normalised for them. So when something does happen they may not be willing to put their hand up.’