Rape survivor Peter Lawler remembers being kept up at night by the sounds of screaming coming from the other patients’ rooms.
Rape survivor Peter Lawler remembers being kept up at night by the sounds of screaming coming from the other patients’ rooms.

Sex abuse survivor haunted by midnight screams

PETER Lawler remembers being kept up at night by the sounds of screaming coming from the other patients' rooms.

He never knew what was causing those screams during the week he spent as an in-patient at the Royal Derwent Hospital, and he still doesn't.

But after he was sexually assaulted, allegedly by a hospital nurse after his release, Mr Lawler says it's time to investigate what was really happening to the patients who would scream throughout the nights.

This week, Tasmania's government released the draft terms of reference for the upcoming Commission of Inquiry into child sexual abuse at the hands of state employees.

Advocate Peter Lawler says vulnerable adults should also be examined in the upcoming sexual abuse Commission of Inquiry. Picture: NIKKI DAVIS-JONES
Advocate Peter Lawler says vulnerable adults should also be examined in the upcoming sexual abuse Commission of Inquiry. Picture: NIKKI DAVIS-JONES

But for Mr Lawler, the inquiry is missing an opportunity to look into what happened to adult victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by government workers.

He said many adults did not have capacity to consent due to mental health conditions, acquired brain injury, dementia and other forms of vulnerability - and they too were sometimes sexually assaulted by the state-employed staff who were meant to protect and care for them.

Failing to analyse these types of cases in the upcoming Commission of Inquiry, according to Mr Lawler, would be a missed opportunity.

"It's not only kids who are powerless," he said.

Mr Lawler said he was in his early 20s when he voluntarily checked in to the notorious New Norfolk institution for a week during the early 1990s, suffering from suicidal ideation.

He said after his release, a nurse from the facility assaulted him in his own bed in Hobart.

"I said 'this isn't right'," Mr Lawler said.

"He said 'good luck taking this to the police'."

The traumatic episode left him feeling powerless for years.

"Nurses are the first level of contact in the health department, and in hospitals, and there is a power imbalance there - they're the ones handing out medication, they're the ones locking the doors at night," he said.

"(I remember) the screams at night I heard coming from other rooms. Now, what was causing those screams, I don't know. But the fact a nurse sexually assaulted me, on the balance of probability, I think it should be investigated."

Originally published as Sex abuse survivor haunted by midnight screams


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