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Published: 18 August 2015
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas and Kate Malone

Former Turana wards tell Royal Commission of horrifying abuse

Three ex-residents of the former Victorian government-run youth institution Turana have told of the physical, psychological and sexual abuse they experienced in state care to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse sitting in Melbourne.

The accounts of Joseph Marinjancevic, Robert Cummings and a woman identified only as “BDB” had significant common threads.

Mr Marinjancevic told the Royal Commission staff at Turana, commonly known as “screws”, were brutal in the physical punishments they meted out to boys. He gave evidence staff in the maximum-security section known as Poplar House would bash residents. Degrading punishments were commonplace, with two witnesses recalling being made to clean stairs with their toothbrushes. The same toothbrushes were given to the residents to clean their teeth.

All three witnesses gave evidence that there was almost no supervision in the dormitories at night. This is when boys were often physically and sexually abused by other boys. Complaints about the abuse were met with inaction and punishment.

BDB told the Royal Commission she was sexually assaulted in the dormitory at night by an older boy who got into bed with her. After experiencing the sexual assaults for some time, she asked a staff member called Mr. Jones to go to the bathroom. She complained about the abuse to Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones took BDB to the tea room on the pretense of waiting until the abuser fell asleep. Mr. Jones then also sexually abused BDB.

The witnesses gave evidence that no medical treatment was provided for injuries or medical conditions. Mr Marinjancevic told the Royal Commission there was no reference to injuries he suffered in his records, despite him suffering a broken nose while at Turana. BDB who complained of stomach pains (and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease later in life) was subjected to a degrading and painful physical examination by a Turana doctor. At the end of the examination, the doctor told BDB  - “it’s your own fault. You should stop fucking the other boys”. BDB also gave evidence she received no treatment for the four times her nose was broken while in Turana.

Electric shock treatment used to “cure” homosexuality

Robert Cummings courageously gave evidence about the severe sexual abuse he suffered at Turana and Harrison House while in state care. Upon complaining to Turana staff about the abuse by other boys in his dormitory, Mr. Cummings was told it was his fault because he was gay. He was then forced to undergo electric shock treatment to “cure” his homosexuality. When other boys at Turana found out about the treatment Mr. Cummings was receiving, he was called a ‘bum boy’ and became a target for sexual abuse.

When he complained he was accused of engaging in homosexual activity and his ECT treatment was increased.

Mr. Cummings told the Royal Commission he twice attempted to commit suicide at Turana, once by cutting his wrists. No one at Turana asked him why.

Police beatings

The Royal Commission also heard that police involvement in the life of the wards was deeply problematic. Wards who ran away from Turana to escape abuse were generally returned to Turana by the police. The three witnesses gave evidence that they were not asked what had caused them to run away. In some instances they were beaten by police.

The trio each also gave evidence that when they received their wardship records as adults, the records contained incorrect information and were heavily redacted. Some records were missing entirely. Mr Cummings told the Commission he was devastated by the false information in his records. BDB was advised by the government that her Turana records had been destroyed “in accordance with the record keeping policy.”

The Royal Commission hearings into the Victorian government-run facilities Turana, Baltara and Winlaton are continuing over the next two weeks at the County Court building in Melbourne. The hearings are open to the public.

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