Horror of abuse in state-run children's homes heard

By Tumamao Harawira

Tony (Lee) Jarvis' experiences at state-run children's homes is quite similar to tales from other state abuse survivors before the Abuse in Care Royal Commission. Mr Jarvis is of Māori and Pākeha descent. 

He gave evidence of suffering severe physical abuse in adopted care, and abuse in state care from the age of seven, including at various family homes, sexual abuse in Cherry Farm where he was placed with adults at the age of nine, extensive sexual and violent abuse at Hokio Beach School from the age of nine, and at Holdsworth Boys’ Home from the age of 10.

"I've carried a little Lee around with me all my life screaming out inside, crying out for answers, crying out for justice, crying out to be heard. Yelling out the question, 'why?''

The inquiry’s state residential care investigation is examining abuse and neglect of children and young people in residences run by the state, and institutions that provided combined care and protection and youth justice care. It will look into abuses suffered at social welfare homes such as the Kohitere Boys Training Centre, Hokio Beach School, Whakapakiri Youth Trust (Great Barrier Island) and others.

Mr X is a 61-year-old Samoan who experienced sexual, physical and psychological abuse in care. He suffered physical and sexual abuse from family members and was placed in care as a result of running away from home to escape. He was placed in Ōwairaka Boys' Home, Hokio, Kohitere and Invercargill Borstal and experienced abuse in all these settings.

'Secure' wings like jails

Mr X spoke of contracting a sexual disease from the abuse he suffered while at the Ōwairaka home in Auckland, "I got that through the sexual abuse, through not being able to shower or get clean. I was in pain for about two or three weeks. They wouldn’t let me see a doctor because otherwise they would have to do a lot of explaining. I was sexually assaulted, I was raped, sodomised, got a bottle shoved up my backside and made to walk around for their amusement, so they could laugh at me."

Mr X also says the use of solitary confinement, or the use of 'secure', had a particularly detrimental effect on his mental well-being, "I want to make one thing clear. The secure wing, what they call a secure wing, is a prison block. So don't tell me they never locked children in prison."

Lawyer Anne Toohey, who leads the residence's investigation team, also touched upon the use of 'secure' in her opening address to the commission, "A major theme for our part of the Inquiry is the use of solitary confinement This is referred to then and now in children’s homes as the use of 'secure.' The secure unit at Kohitere, for example, was modelled on the unit from Arohata Prison."

She also addressed the history of state-run children's homes and Māori. "Few tamariki Maori lived in any sort of institution before World War II. Of 2,500 children in church-run facilities which were the main kind of facilities before the war in 1940, none were Maori."

For Tony Jarvis, who was the last known adoptee of the Māori Land Court before that power was moved to the Family Court, there is light for him at the end of a dark tunnel, "I've been extended an offer from the Waitangi Tribunal to help establish the Māori Transition Authority that they've recommended in place of Oranga Tamariki."