‘Yes, they have taken a lot of my life from me, but I’m getting that all back together now.’
Winston grew up in rural Victoria in the 1970s. Both his parents wanted to get ahead in the Salvation Army as ministers. Winston believes they only married to further their prospects, and that his mother took out her unhappiness with the match on him.
‘My earliest memory of all this starting was when I was four and being sodomised and having my mum come into the room and slap me and tell me I’m making too much noise. And she left, and the guy just kept on doing what he was doing.’
Winston believes he was abused by males from the Salvation Army Church and that his parents facilitated it. ‘Well at least my mother did’, Winston told the Commissioner, ‘and as we moved from town to town, so too was the information that I was “available” to anyone who wanted me, passed from town to town as well.’
Winston’s mother featured heavily in his account of abuse. To this day, he takes extreme measures to avoid contact with her, and the rest of his family.
‘At some point, my mother started to psychologically and physically abuse me, and the rest of the family were encouraged to join in, and it became family sport to bait me at every possible moment.’
Practices within the Salvation Army added to the assaults Winston experienced. Ministers’ children were often ‘farmed out’ to other families while their parents performed their duties. ‘So a lot happened in other people’s homes.’
The family moved every few years and Winston’s mother did not allow him to keep in touch with old friends. Winston has had trouble keeping friends ever since.
As a teenager attending a technical high school Winston recalls being raped on six occasions by groups of older students. He reported this to the deputy headmaster and was not believed. Winston told his mother and again received no support. After the first report she returned him to school the next day and made sure Winston attended class.
‘It was her dinner party conversation for a while and she laughed about it.’ Later in life Winston confronted her about her callousness. ‘And she said, “It was the beginning of the 80s. Who knew what effect this would have on anybody?”’
Winston reports that playing music helped keep him sane as a young man. He moved away from his family and tried to forget about what had happened to him. But the memories returned in the mid-1990s.
‘In my 30s I started living in flashback and I saw the big movie screen and really hoped that nobody else could see it.
‘I knew then I had the choice of either suiciding or going talking to somebody … That’s when I found my first counsellor, and he and I spent three and a half years together. But we both knew there was some stuff there that we couldn’t get at.’
Eventually Winston learned he was suffering from a dissociative disorder, which had developed as a defence mechanism, teaching Winston to switch off his emotions and memory during times of trauma. Winston found a new counsellor who has helped him with this.
‘I can sort of now see the type of person I’m going to become when I’m finished my therapy. And while it’s probably not the man I would’ve been if none of this had happened it’s certainly different to the man I was.’
Winston has not reported the rapes to police. ‘I have no memory of who the boys were and if anybody had asked me I couldn’t even guess at who they were.’ At the time he thought it would have been his parents’ or the school’s responsibility to call the police, but by that time in his life Winston had simply accepted ‘non-reporting was par for the course’.
Winston was keen to add his story to the Royal Commission’s work. He believes times are changing but worries that institutions like the Salvation Army can never be completely safe for children.
‘Even with all the safeguards that there are it’s very hard. Unless you’ve got a group of adults who are watching each other when they are dealing with children, it’s very hard. At some point some child is going to end up on their own with an adult …
‘I was in the unfortunate position where nobody believed anything that I said. And that’s always been the hardest part.’