Survivors of historical cases of child rape, violence and neglect at state-owned care institutions are being officially heard for the first time.

Witnesses on Tuesday began giving evidence at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, the biggest inquiry ever to have looked into what happened to children, young people and vulnerable adults in care between 1950 and 1999.

Keith Wiffin told the commission he was first abused aged 10 by a house master while he was at Epuni Boys Home. He’d been sent there after his father’s death left Wiffin’s mother unable to care for her four children.

Published in Stuff

The culture of the Epuni was extremely violent, between the boys themselves and from staff members, Wiffin said.

So was sexual abuse and rape.

“It was well known between the boys that you had a better chance of not being abused by a staff member if your lights were out,” he said.

Wiffin said his principal abuser was his house master, the equivalent of a prison guard.

“The first time he abused me, he found a reason to send me to my room. There he sexually abused me,” he said.

He also remembers being locked in a room hearing the boy in the next room being raped by a staff member, wondering when it was going to be his turn.

Other staff members were aware of the violence or the sexual abuse, and he said that made them as complicit as the offenders.

Child rape statistics were equally shared between boys and girls, retired District Court Judge Carolyn Henwood told the inquiry on Tuesday.

“Boys are suffering abuse in large numbers,” she said.

“Some of the rapes needed medical procedures to fix what damage had been done,” she said.

Henwood was the Chair of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS), which provided counselling and assistance for people who experienced abuse or neglect during their time in State care.

A total 1103 people came forward in seven years to give testimony, 552 women and 551 men, she said.

“Survivors come forward because they want a better system for future generations,” she said.

“These children felt abandoned – first by parents, and second by the state.”

Henwood compared children in care to being like a prisoner – legally detained with no access to justice.

“It’s hard for one person to bring alive what 1100 people went through – these little kids. It’s about the children of the past, of the future and think about how to protect them going forward.”

Her aspirations for the Royal Commission of Inquiry is to consider the systemic failures, and detail a comprehensive assessment of the current system in place.

This includes anyone who was in a children’s home, fostered or adopted out, in a youth justice facility, in psychiatric care, in any disability care or facility at a health camp and at any school or early childhood centre.

“The commission must do more beyond listening to the survivors and looking at the department responsible,” she said.

The contextual hearing is set down for two weeks, with 29 witness expected to give evidence.


Rape Crisis – 0800 88 33 00 (Will direct you to a nearby centre), follow link for information on local helplines
Victim Support – 0800 842 846 (24hr service)
The Harbour, online support and information for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour
Women’s Refuge (For women and children) – crisis line available on 0800 733 843
Safe to talk – 0800 044 334, text 4334 or web chat
Male Survivors Aotearoa (For men) – follow link for regional helplines

If you or someone else is in immediate danger call 111.

By Laine Moger
Published in Stuff
29 October 2019