A deaf man with Asperger's syndrome who claims he was beaten by his teacher and later misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and medicated has shared his story of the "unbearable stress" in seeking recognition and relief from the state.
The ongoing Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry, which resumes public hearings in Auckland today, is investigating abuse in state and faith-based care between 1950 and 1999.
Survivors this week are sharing their experiences in seeking redress, such as compensation, counselling or an apology.
James Packer, 49, of Ngāti Maniapoto, provided evidence about the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of a teacher at Kelston School for the Deaf in Auckland from 1983-1987.
His mother Cheryl Munro read his affidavit on his behalf, Packer stating it would be "too distressing" to do so himself.
Abuse at the boarding school included: being smacked around the head, punched in the stomach, beaten for speaking in Sign Language, and even witnessing the teacher break the arm of another student.
As a student he disclosed this abuse to his mother, who also made enquiries with the school, but was "always pushed aside".
"I was so traumatised by the teacher that I couldn't talk about the abuse for long periods of time or in extended interviews," Munro read.
"I still push clothes against my door at night to stop the teacher coming into my room and abusing me."
Packer also shared how at 21, he was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia at Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital in Christchurch, and medicated with a "cocktail of anti-psychotics" for years before a specialist - brought in by his family - correctly diagnosed him with Asperger's syndrome.
He'd been living and working in the city at the time, a "well-functioning young adult", when the death of his grandfather triggered a significant period of grief.
After an incident where he stripped off his clothes in public, he was admitted immediately to Sunnyside, and "visually misdiagnosed" with schizophrenia. He remained on and off at the hospital for 11 years.
There he was physically assaulted by staff and patients, and punished for speaking Sign Language, being told staff needed to know what he was saying, Munro read.
After about two years his family had arranged for a top clinician from Australia to assess him, and who diagnosed him with Aspergers.
However, this was ignored at Sunnyside and he continued to be heavily medicated, which left home "crawling on the floor ... dribbling".
He almost died twice, she said, before they made the decision to move him to Waikato, and there medical staff immediately cut his medication in half.
Munro said today Packer now suffers dyskinesia, which causes involuntary movement, as a result.
In seeking recognition, an apology and redress, Packer said in his statement it caused "unbearable stress" on himself and his mother, and wider whānau.
In her own words, Munro said it was "disheartening".
"There was nowhere to go, he wasn't believed."
They described how despite raising the issues with police, and at the school and with the Ministry of Education, it was dismissed after an investigation, with the ministry stating although the very teacher had received complaints post-1990, there were none recorded prior.
Munro disputed this, saying she had raised concerns but none were recorded.
At a school reunion, a teacher from the same time period even commented to her how it was a "wonder James had survived, given what he had been through.
"They knew ... They had vulnerable children being abused by a sadistic, violent bully, their teacher, and had no way of contacting their family," Munro said.
"They were at boarding school and it is quite clear other instances of abuse happened, in particular by that teacher.
"Those children are in the community now, and I'm sure many of them will not have had support nor help."
After several years of fighting their case, with support from Sonja Cooper at Cooper Legal, they received $10,000 in compensation alongside an apology.
But the ordeal was "retraumatising", drawn out, and made incredibly difficult, even including having to fight for the right to legal aid.
Packer submitted similar issues in seeking support over his abuse at Sunnyside, for which he eventually received $18,000 in compensation.
Munro said it was never about the money, despite the fact she'd spent tens of thousands of dollars on Packer's care, as a result of the abuse her son suffered in state institutions.
"There needs to be big improvements," Munro read on behalf of Packer.
"Trying to get recognition should never be this hard. It has never been clear who we could or should speak to, to get answers. There is no publicly available information, which made the process so hard to understand, and we had no idea about the eligibility of claims nor compensation."
There needed to be a dedicated team in Government to handle such claims, not just fight them, and the process be supported and funded better, Munro read on behalf of Packer.
Day one also heard the struggles of Keith Wiffin, who was sexually assaulted by house master Alan Moncreif-Wright at Epuni Boys' Home in Lower Hutt in the early 1970s, aged 11.
He spent many painful years battling with the Ministry of Social Development to have his story heard and believed, despite the Ministry being aware of other accusations and even convictions against Moncreif-Wright from Epuni.
"They tried to keep [information] from me where they should have tried to help me.
"This person was a very serious abuser, had many victims, some only just starting to come forward now.
"Moncreif-Wright was allowed to get away with these things because of serious and systemic flaws in the system.
"It is my hope the Commission will look at these things and thoroughly get to the bottom."
The 10-day hearings are the first of two planned. A second in October is for state entities' witnesses to talk about their redress processes.
The Royal Commission will ultimately make recommendations to the Governor-General in 2023 on how New Zealand can better look after those in its care.
Where to get help:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
• NATIONAL ANXIETY 24 HR HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.