Electric shocks for abuse victim: inquiry

A ward of the state who was raped by older boys at Victoria’s Turana youth centre was subjected to a dozen electric shock treatments to cure him of his homosexuality, an inquiry has heard.


Robert Cummings said the treatments started after he told an officer he was being abused by an older boy.

Mr Cummings, 60, told the child abuse royal commission that a doctor told him: “You’re here because you’re homosexual and we’re going to cure that with electric shock treatment.”

Mr Cummings said he was frogmarched by two “screws” to get the electric shock treatment, despite telling staff and doctors he was being abused, was not homosexual and did not want the therapy.

The then-15-year-old was subjected to 12 electric shock sessions over a two-month period in 1971, while still being raped by other residents of Turana.

Mr Cummings said he became a target when the other boys found out about the treatment.

“I was being called bum boy. I was abused by other boys on a frequent basis because they knew about the sessions at the hospital.”

Mr Cummings said he reported the abuse to the doctor who told him: “Well we need to up your dosage of electricity.”

“I remember screaming from the pain and being thrown from the chair,” he said.

At first he was given a shock when images of naked men appeared on a screen.

Later he was also shocked when a half-naked image of a woman appeared.

“The doctor said ‘we don’t want you to fixate on women’.”

Mr Cummings spent 41 years as a youth worker, returning to Turana as a recreation officer at age 19, in the hope of stopping what happened to him happening to anyone else.

Former residents have told the royal commission Turana was a brutal place where children were treated like car parts in a warehouse.

“We were looked after very much the same way as you look after car parts or old TV sets or something like that,” said witness BDB, who cannot be identified.

“We had no one to talk to. People weren’t interested whether we did well in school, in fact, if we attended school.”

BDB, who grew up as a boy but now lives as a woman, was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a youth at Turana in 1965.

BDB banged on the locked dorm room’s door and yelled to go to the toilet to avoid the boy’s nightly visit.

“I was pretty frightened of him and I really didn’t like what was going on,” BDB said.

BDB said an officer told her to sit in the tea room while they waited for the youth to go to sleep. The officer then exposed himself to BDB and asked her to touch him.

“I remember him telling me everything was OK while he was doing this.”

BDB did not report the abuse.

“There was a culture in Turana that if you told on someone, lagging as they called it, you would get a beating.”

Abuse survivor Joseph Marijancevic said Poplar House, the high-security section of Turana, was a brutal place and there were three riots during his six-month stay in 1966.

“One of the screws beat up one of the lads so badly they had to take him to hospital,” Mr Marijancevic said on Tuesday.

“They dished out treatment that shouldn’t be dished out to adults, let alone children.”

The public hearing focused on the Turana, Winlaton and Baltara state-run youth centres has heard children were sexually abused by staff members, social workers and other child residents.