“The evil man has gone after my soul; my life is crushed down to the earth: he has put me in the dark, like those who have been long dead. Because of this my spirit is overcome; and my heart is full of fear.”
Psalm 143:3 lingers in Mark Stiles’ mind watching his abuser, former Salvation Army officer Captain Russell Walker give evidence. Earlier, Walker had kept shifting seats in the courtroom, edging closer.
“He was moving seats trying to throw me off my game. He had the appearance of someone who didn’t think he should be there,” Mr Stiles said.
Reliving the repeated sexual abuse he’d been subjected to over 16 months from 1971 to 1972 was, by his own admission, “the toughest thing (he’d) ever had to do”.
Mr Stiles has chosen to identify himself as a victim of Russell Robert Walker, who served at the Gill Memorial Boys Home in the early 1970s. Walker was sentenced in Darlinghurst District Court on December 3 to 16 years’ prison, with a non-parole period of 12 years.
In July he was found guilty of 18 counts of assault on a male, two counts of buggery, and one each of attempting to procure/commission an indecent act with a male and procuring/commissioning an indecent act. He had pleading not guilty throughout.
Mr Stiles, now 60 and living in Queensland, also gave evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2014. Strike Force Lehman detectives started their investigations into sexual abuse at the Army’s Goulburn and Bexley Boys Homes soon after. They arrested Walker in late 2016.
“I’ve done easier things,” Mr Stiles said of his testimony during the six-week trial. “It never leaves you, but a little thing inside you says justice must be served and that’s what drives you. We (including five other victims) did it for the hundreds who couldn’t come out of their homes and speak up.”
He came to Gill from Canberra in August 1971, aged 12, the son of a sole parent. His mother was a payroll clerk; the children, “latchkey kids”. He repeatedly wagged school and one day, someone suggested to his financially struggling mother that the young Mark could go to Gill.
“I was put in there just in case I ran away,” he said.
In court he detailed his first day at the Home and being “belted around the head” for failing to make his bed. He told how Walker preyed on him and others, isolating him in places such as the bell-tower and then indecently assaulting him. Walker was convicted of five indecent assault charges in regard to Mr Stiles.
In his victim impact statement to the court, Mr Stiles said his world collapsed during his time at the home.
“Arriving at the Gill was terrifying and the terror multiplied at the beginning of the abuses. I would freeze like a board at each episode and then return to my dorm or workplace or wherever, feeling sick, shamed, guilty and very angry.”
He told of being further isolated at high school, regarded as a “homie”. While other students went home to “biscuits, tea and milk drinks,” the Gill boys returned to “abuse, assaults and God only know what else”.
“It was like waking up with a rapist daily,” he said.
His father removed him from the Home in late 1972 after Mark wrote to him. That was after he’d twice tried to run away. On one of these occasions he told police of his abuse at Gill but said the officer hit him around the head “for spreading rumours.” He was beaten again when he was returned to the institution.
Mr Stiles said later he moved from job to job, struggled with relationships, turned to alcohol for social acceptance and lived with suicidal thoughts daily.
It was like waking up with a rapist daily- Mark Stiles
Regarding the verdict and sentence, he said it was nice to have a win, “but looking at the bigger picture, had the churches faced up to their massive moral failure earlier, more lives could have been repatriated and lived to the fullest … instead of having decades of denying and stalling.”
Mr Stiles said the trial forced the boys to relive their experience. Having to explain what happened to him to 12 people (the jury) he’d never met made him want to be physically ill
He had his say in court.
“You were so in control, you knew I would never scream out, and you knew I would never be believed if I spoke out … You used your power and authority over a helpless and terrified child,” his statement read.
“I tell you now, even in spite of me forgiving you for my own benefit, your actions and your subsequent demand of putting the innocent on trial yet again should ring loud in the halls of justice, both earthly and heavenly.”
He said he’d been left “humiliated, shamed and filthy” and there was “nothing available on earth that could get that back”.
Mr Stiles told the Post that he still bore scars on his back from beatings by the now deceased Captain Lawrence Wilson, who was also named in the Royal Commission.
Over the years he has received some compensation payments that did not waive his right to legal action. He expected Walker’s guilty verdict to pave the way for further civil claims.
Mr Stiles has spent many years in law enforcement. Despite everything, he says, he’s still a Christian. He said he had survived with the support of a loving wife and family.
In recent years he has spoken out about his experience, including at Parliament House in 2015.
“I haven’t had an enjoyable life, but whatever time I have left, I’d like to think that I can sit with survivors and help them purge themselves,” he said.
“None of us will forget what happened, but we have to get to a place where we can just live.”
- Lifeline Australia, telephone 13 11 14, for crisis support and suicide prevention.
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