(This case study relates to the NSW Government's move to erase the criminal records of men who were convicted for having consensual sex in the past when homosexuality was illegal. Tim is not his real name.)
My conviction happened in 1981 and I’ve lived with this secret for over 30 years now. I can’t pretend it hasn’t taken its toll on me and it’s an immense relief to learn that I am finally free of this black cloud.
I was 23 years old and working as an office worker and living with my mum and dad in the suburbs of Sydney. My parents are of Italian heritage and not understanding of homosexuality at all. I was living in a closeted environment and there was no opportunity to take home boyfriends. I couldn’t even conceive of having a boyfriend. I knew that my very existence was against the law.
I was out and drinking in a bar and met this fellow and I couldn’t take him back to my place so he suggested he knew a place that was safe. We went to an undercover car park around 1am and it seemed very secluded. We were in total darkness and I had checked to make sure we were the only people there.
But obviously we weren’t the only people there. All of a sudden police officers turned on their torches and said “what’s going on here”. Then we were put in the back of a police car and taken to North Sydney station. They separated us and asked us to make statements. I don’t remember being told I could ring a lawyer.
I was scared and looked up at the policeman when the statement was in front of me. I said “should I being doing this?” And he said yes. I hadn’t spoken to a lawyer and didn’t know what to do, so I just signed the statement.
I had to attend court and I just remember an overwhelming feeling of fear and embarrassment. I remember my lawyer saying “I’ve got good news and bad news”. The good news is that you’re not going to jail but the bad news is that the judge has decided it’s going on your record. At the time I didn’t realise how much of an impact that would have later in my life. I was just happy I wasn’t going to jail.
I didn’t leave my job for about 20 years because I was too scared my conviction would be revealed. I was lucky to be able to move across jobs in the same group of companies. In the jobs since I’ve been very lucky because I was asked “have you, in the last 10 years, being convicted of a crime” and I could honestly tick “no”. In those days, in 2002, they didn’t ask for a police certificate.
In in 2007 I went to apply for a job and found out I had a police certificate. Employers have changed from asking whether you have been convicted of an offence in the last 10 years to asking for a police record check. I found out that my criminal record contained a conviction for “indecent assault”. I was really distressed to see that this offence was on my record without a date recorded. Anyone reading the record could think I committed a serious sexual offence as recently as last year. I withdrew my application and stayed in my job.
Last year, I found out that I would need to reapply for my job due to a restructure and would be required to undertake a police check. I would have preferred to resign rather than risk my criminal record being disclosed.
I am now retired and would really like to volunteer to help elderly people or people with disabilities but I can’t do that if I’m not considered a “suitable” person. And this is all due to something I did in 1981 that isn’t even illegal today. I wouldn’t even want to apply for a volunteer position and risk my conviction become known to the organisation I was applying to. Living in a small community I just wouldn’t take that risk.
I’m very grateful that the Government is acting to help people like me. If I was able to have my conviction erased or expunged this would be a massive relief. I would feel closure to a horrible experience in my past and finally able to move forward without the anxiety of thinking that my conviction could be disclosed. I don’t see what I did as any different to a couple that goes car-parking, like on Happy Days, but I’ve been punished for what I did for decades.