29 Sep 2020

Abuse in care: Child wrongfully diagnosed as mentally disabled was sexually and physically abused

9:23 am on 29 September 2020

Warning: This story discusses graphic details of sexual abuse and physical abuse.

A man who was wrongly identified as mentally disabled when just six years old, was then sent to a state institution where he was physically and sexually abused until the end of his teens.

Royal Commission Abuse in Care inquiry.

Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

It took until he was 74 years old before the man, referred to as Mr M, received compensation and an apology.

Known to the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care, which is sitting in Auckland, as Mr M, his story was relayed to the inquiry on Monday by the IHC.

Mr M was placed into the care of the Home of Compassion in Island Bay until he was six years old.

After that he went to the Templeton Centre, near Christchurch, he was placed there under what was then the Mental Defectives Act.

Mr M was assessed as intellectually disabled because it was felt he had low-intelligence. He could not spell cat, add two two and did not know his surname.

The IHC said it was a slim diagnosis at best, which in time, quite a long time it turned out, proved to be wrong.

For the next 13 years he was put to work and physically and sexually abused.

Director of Advocacy for the IHC Trish Grant said Mr M went to Templeton thinking he was going to school.

''But when he got there that didn't happen. He worked on the farm and in the workshop.

"At that time to there was very gender defining activities, so the girls went off to the school-like place and the boys went off to work on the farm or be in the workshop. So he was very, very disappointed with that.''

From the age of 14 he was promised wages for the work he was doing, but he never received any.

At 19 he left Templeton to work on a farm on the West Coast.

''He had no money, he had no literacy skills and not a day of schooling. He had also been the victim of terrible physical and sexual assault during that time at Templeton.''

Trish Grant said he left the farm and ended up in Seaview Psychiatric Hospital on the West Coast where his life changed dramatically.

''They then assessed him. They were thinking who was is this person and how can we support him and so he went through an assessment process and surprise surprise he was found not to have an intellectual disability.''

Seaview arranged employment for Mr M.

''So he began what was to be his life-long career as a (hospital) porter,'' she said.

Grant said throughout his time as a porter Mr M never let on he had once been in institutional care.

He retired in 1991 and then started to think about his early life.

''Mr M lived a very isolated, lonely life. He didn't have many friends, he didn't have an important relationship, he didn't have children, he didn't have relations so he had a lot of time on his hands and he started to think about the terrible things that had happened to him.''

Mr M started his quest for redress in 1991 and finally received an apology and compensation in 2003.

He died in 2006, aged 78.

Trish Grant said Mr M's case is like many who have come to the IHC for help.

She said it is about the lack of education.

''At that time his legal counsel had looked out and seen that many of the cases at that time based on abuse hadn't been successful, so they framed up his claim around the denial and neglect of his education.''

Trish Grant said redress for survivors of abuse is extremely difficult.

''Firstly the systems themselves may be inaccessible, they may be unaffordable and actually you need a lot of support to go through those processes.''

Trish Grant said she would like to see an Office of Public Advocate established, but whatever system is decided on to safeguard people in the future, it must be fair, impartial and inexpensive.

She said people who are disabled have a human right to seek access justice and seek redress.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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