Life of addiction and trauma overcome by tenacity and the support of whānau
Des Hurring, of Ngāi Tahu, Tasmanian Aboriginal and British descent, was sexually abused by a family friend from age eight. He soon began to struggle at school. No one noticed the sudden changes in his educational performance and sleeping patterns, or wondered why he was no longer playing with other kids at school or in the neighbourhood.
Des spent five years under Department of Social Welfare supervision before being sent to Lookout Point Boys’ Home in Dunedin for theft in March 1976, where he was subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
In 1977, Des was sent to Kohitere Boys’ Training Centre in Levin, where he suffered more physical and sexual abuse from both staff and other boys. He described both places as creating “violent offenders, just like a production line, ready to move on through the prison system”.
“After leaving Kohitere, I started drinking heavily and used drugs to help me forget what had happened to me in care. I remember I was pleading guilty to crimes I didn’t do because I could not remember what I was doing. I had fallen into the trap of constantly taking drugs and excessively drinking alcohol to forget the painful memories.
“At this early stage, I really didn’t care if I lived or died. Not surprisingly, I ended up in prison. At the age of 21, I was released from prison ... Eventually, I got my life back together. I obtained employment. I had purchased a house and was in a long-term relationship and then I had children.”
In 2004, when Des was in his forties, he contacted law firm Cooper Legal, which was representing many other survivors, to try to get redress for the abuse he had suffered. In June 2006, after two years of preparation, he filed a claim in the High Court against the Ministry of Social Development.
In late 2007, the Crown Law Office contacted him on behalf of the ministry and suggested he withdraw his claim, which it said would face significant legal hurdles, most notably the Limitation Act 1950, which barred claims made more than six years after the events that were the subject of the claim. Des refused to withdraw his claim. In mid-2008, the High Court declined to hear his case, saying he had not adequately explained the delay in bringing his claim.
“In December 2008, Cooper Legal closed my file because my [legal aid] funding was withdrawn. At that stage, I thought I would never get any justice.”
In May 2007, the ministry began an out-of-court process to resolve abuse in care claims, and in February 2012, Des met members of the ministry’s claims resolution team. “I really struggled with the interview, and I was unable to disclose some of the sexual abuse I had suffered.”
In order to get redress through the ministry’s process, Des had to get hold of his Department of Social Welfare records. It took more than a year for the ministry to hand over copies of his records.
“Because of this, Cooper Legal took a claim for me and a large group of people whose records had been delayed, to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. As a result, I was eventually paid compensation of $9,000.”
In 2016 he accepted $12,000 offered through the ministry’s fast-track claims process. He used the money to pay off some of his mortgage. “I feel like the money I got from MSD [the Ministry of Social Development] is ‘dirty money’, mainly because MSD has never shown any real remorse or given me a proper apology or acknowledgement for the abuse and harm I suffered.”
“I did not take this case to get compensation. I was expecting MSD to admit the wrongdoing done against me. I was also expecting a real apology from the Government, and criminal charges being laid against the perpetrators.”
Des is now terminally ill.
“I want to live whatever life I have left with my wife, knowing at least that I have tried to right the wrongs out of my control, because of MSD and its cover-ups, denials and lies … along with a broken system that remains to deny the truth of facts that to me are as clear as day.
“I can only hope that, before the Royal Commission makes its final findings, MSD decides to make urgent change now – not just to mend, deny or cover-up, but to replace a broken system for the children who still need help and care. For me, this comes way too late. I am very lucky I found a way to survive through the horrible addictions and traumas in my life, largely due to the support of my wife. To me personally, that’s worth more than any compensation money could ever make up for.”
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