31 Jul 2021

'More support needed', victim tells Royal Commission into abuse

5:38 pm on 31 July 2021

A Samoan man who came to New Zealand at about the age of four has told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care that too many in his community are being left to live their lives with no social supports.

Royal Commission into Abuse in Care sitting at Fale o Samoa in Māngere.

The Royal Commission into Abuse in Care hearing at the Fale o Samoa in Māngere earlier in the fortnight. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

The 35 year old gave evidence as part of two weeks of hearings for the Pacific community in South Auckland, which ended on Friday.

The man was known to the inquiry only as Mr VT, to protect his identity.

He grew up in a violent household and before the age of 15 he thought it was normal to be disciplined by his father the way he and his brother were.

He said he grew up with values of respecting his elders and not talking about problems.

''If you had an issue you read the Bible and prayed about it. I went through a lot of shit and didn't tell anyone except my brother.''

''So a lot of respect, a lot of to serve others, and don't speak back, no back chat and all these kind of things. We were punished severely for it,'' he said.

''The violence from my father also changed when I got older, from open handed slaps to closed fist punches.''

VT first came to the attention of welfare at the age of ten.

''There were a few times I turn up to school with glasses on hiding black eyes. Wouldn't take my jersey off because I had a lot of bruising and the teachers noticed that over time and I guess they made a note of that and talked to CYFs [the Child Youth and Family agency] about it.''

He first went to the Kingslea Boys' Home, then back to his own home for a while, but later returned to Kingslea.

Each time in residential care he experienced bullying, intimidation, assaults and fear.

Foster placements then followed.

''I have lost count of the number of placements I have been in. I've been in quite a lot and every time, whatever chance I can get to get away I'd do. I'd run away and I'd go home because I felt more safer there. I didn't know these people.''

At 13 he was sent to Eastland, a six-month alternative course, near Whakatāne.

CYFs normally only sent boys to Eastland aged between 14 and 17, who were physically strong and under Youth Court orders.

''I was only 13 and I was not physically strong. I should never have been sent there.''

He said it was incredibly brutal and at one stage he tried to run away, taking a gun with him.

At first he hid in the hills. When he was caught, the gun was swiftly used against him by one of the instructors.

''Eventually I came back down and then I had the gun and I had my hands up in the air with the gun in my hand and he grabbed the gun and hit me with the barrel. Hit me with the butt of the gun on my head. I knelt down and started seeing blood dripping down into the river.''

The violence continued.

''Once an older boy made me go down to the river to fight with him. When I got there all the other boys were waiting for me and they gave me a serious beating. They picked up an old fashioned washing machine roller, a wringer and smashed it on my back.''

Other times the boys dragged him around and would urinate on him.

''The other boys stuffed cigarette butts out on my face and made me lie down in the freezing river in my underpants.''

He was also sexually abused there by other boys.

After nearly three-weeks he escaped.

He was placed back in Kingslea and also spent time at a youth justice facility, after that he eventually ended up in prison, where he has been in and out of, ever since.

''As much as I try my hardest to stay out I always end up back here. I just don't know how to live out there and I have had no help along the way with a lot of things, so I have had to survive on my own.''

VT has a history of depression and anxiety.

''Mental health got involved with me at that point. I was diagnosed with PTSD and borderline personality disorder.''

''I had the system and I don't trust anyone in it. The system abandoned me and traumatised me.''

He was asked by the Commission what could have been done differently for him in his early years of state care.

''I believe what they need is more wrap around support with these Pacific Island people and families to guide them through New Zealand policies or New Zealand law or just to help guide them along because for them, that is all they know.''

VT said proper redress for being abused in care should include an explanation and an apology.

''Of course it wasn't them personally, but also at the same time I feel like these people who are supposed to look after us need to be held accountable for their actions because they pass the buck to someone up higher, but at the end of the day it's those people down below who are stuffing it up.''

He said he does not want the same things ever to happen to his kids.

VT said he wished he and his family had never come to New Zealand.

''I believe that if I had stayed in Samoa I would have had better discipline to keep my life on track. I have a lot of identity issues and I don't have a sense of belonging.''

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