One of Victoria’s top policemen says it is mind boggling how some officers once treated sex abuse complaints by wards of the state and youth offenders.
Assistant commissioner Stephen Fontana said he was quite angry with the treatment of Norman Latham, who said a detective hit him across the face with a phone when told the 15-year-old ran away from Turana youth centre because two `screws’ were raping him.
The child abuse royal commission has heard one of the youth officers again raped Mr Latham the night police took him back to Turana in 1962, after a uniformed policeman told them what had been said.
“In terms of the response that was given at the time, no follow-up inquiries, the treatment of him, it’s mind boggling, but it does go back to the attitudes in the day unfortunately,” Mr Fontana told the commission on Thursday.
He said police were now better at reporting and dealing with such behaviour.
“Something like that would most likely end up in a criminal charge and dismissal from the organisation, particularly with a young juvenile that’s been belted over the head with a phone,” he said.
Another Turana abuse victim, Joseph Marijancevic, gave evidence that he was beaten by a police officer in 1966 after telling him he ran away “because they hurt me”.
Mr Fontana said Victoria Police never condoned that sort of behaviour.
“It’s clear that there were members that had that attitude, that some members probably used inappropriate force,” he said.
“I’ve read these statements that are very believable and it’s very unfortunate.”
Mr Fontana was asked how he felt reading the account of former ward of the state, BDF, who told the commission she was forced to perform oral sex on a police officer in 1987 to avoid being charged with stealing a car while living on the streets.
“I was outraged. It just shouldn’t happen,” the 40-year police veteran said.
“Today, members that are involved in that conduct would be charged criminally and would be subject to disciplinary action as well.”
Mr Fontana said police had implemented many changes, particularly after a 2004 Law Reform Commission review found deficiencies in its practices, including a culture of disbelief regarding sexual assault victims.