24 Sep 2020

Abuse in care inquiry: 'Prison guards were more caring' than welfare homes

7:14 pm on 24 September 2020

A man has given a harrowing account of the consequences to his life after going into state care in the 1970s.

Royal Commission Abuse in Care inquiry.

Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Earl White, which is a pseudonym to protect his identity, gave evidence to the Abuse in Care Royal Commission sitting in Auckland on Thursday.

White was physically abused by his father and step-father before going to the Epuni Boys' Home and Hokio Beach School.

On arrival at the Epuni Boys' Home, he was placed in a secure unit for a few days and only allowed out for one hour a day.

As a young boy, he was totally bewildered.

"I remember sitting there crying, wondering what was going on, frightened of being locked in a cell."

He said a kingpin structure existed where older boys assaulted younger ones.

White does not remember getting much formal learning.

"For education, I didn't receive any education apart from learning how to steal cars and breaking into houses and shops."

He said the sexual abuse started at Hokio residential home.

"I know from records I was taken off the school premises on 13 separate occasions and this would often be with other boys and we would go to Mr X house or for a drive to the beach or to Levin. When we went to his house, he would take boys into his room."

White left state care at the age of 15.

What followed was years of alcohol and cannabis addiction, burglaries and eventually two prison terms, he said.

"You might not understand but I found periods in prison easier than the time in the welfare homes. The prison guards were doing their job and they were more caring and I felt safe at night."

He had been trapped in a life of crime and drugs and health issues related to cigarettes, which he started smoking at the age of seven, he said.

He has one wish.

"Try and do something for my children and grandchildren before I die, because as it is at the moment if I died, I am just a burden on them, because they can't afford to pay for any funeral."

He describes a 12-year process of seeking redress as a nightmare.

"The Crown treated me like a defendant in a criminal trial rather than a victim of abuse. The whole process made me re-traumatised and abused all over again."

After a number of settlement offers were turned down by the Crown, his case ended up in the High Court, which accepted the findings of abuse but his financial claim was not successful.

The Ministry of Social Development ended up paying him $25,000 with an apology.

White describes both as a joke and an insult.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs