9yo sent to Cherry Farm, Royal Commission hears

Photo: RNZ
Photo: RNZ
Warning: This story includes details of sexual violence

Where are the cherries? This was the constant thought going through the mind of a nine-year-old boy who was sent to the adult psychiatric hospital Cherry Farm, near Dunedin.

Now aged 59, Toni Jarvis has given evidence to the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care's inquiry into residential state care.

Adopted at birth, Jarvis was severely physically abused by his adopted father.

Between the ages of seven and eight, he ended up fostered in various family homes before, five days after turning nine, he ended up in Cherry Farm awaiting a placement at Hokio Beach School in the North Island.

Jarvis said the doctors advised social welfare that they did not have the facilities for a nine-year-old boy and that he would be placed and locked with adult patients and that the patients would corrupt him.

"Social welfare sent me anyway. For as long as I remember Social Welfare had the attitude of doing what they wanted and not what was best throughout my childhood," Jarvis said.

''I didn't have any understanding of why I was taken to Cherry Farm. I was not told where I was going apart from the name of the institution. When we drove there I noticed it was a massive complex, but being the nine-year-old I was, I was looking for a plant with cherries.

''I was excited to go to Cherry Farm. All I could think of was tins of fruit salad, where there would be one cherry.''

He was taken to the main area and then locked in with the adult patients.

"It was like, welcome to the horror show for a nine-year old boy. All the adult patients stopped and gave me a sickening looks."

The patients were very disturbed and mentally ill, he said.

"They were making noises, wailing and making unusual movements with their bodies and faces. I remember thinking to myself what the hell is this and I was still wondering where the cherries were.

"I went into a foetal position and the patients starting coming at me in every direction."

He was constantly medicated at Cherry Farm to keep him quiet and then discharged six weeks later without there ever being a mental illness diagnosis

He first went to the Epuni Boys' Home and then Hokio Beach School.

At Hokio he was raped at least hundreds of times by older boys.

"I can't exactly say how many times I was raped while I was there but my guess is 200 times based on my experience of being raped every day and every night and the amount of boys who were doing it and, as I stand here today, how would anybody like to be raped 200 times in just one place."

Jarvis left school at 16 and ended up doing two stints in borstal and time in Paparua Prison.

He wants the Royal Commission to make recommendations before its term finishes in 2023.

"We have two more years of the inquiry to go through and to the average person that is not long, but to survivors that is another life time."

Where to get help

Road Forward Trust, Wellington, contact Richard 0211181043
Better Blokes Auckland, 099902553
The Canterbury Men's Centre, 03 3776747
The Male Room, Nelson 035480403
Male Survivors, Waikato 07 8584112
Male Survivors, Otago 0211064598
NZ Police
Victim Support 0800 842 846
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
Rape Prevention Education
Empowerment Trust
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0
Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.
Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94


"For as long as I remember Social Welfare had the attitude of doing what they wanted" so periodically we get the name changed.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the old name could be reinstated, this time making its modus operandi fit the name instead of keeping the old antisocial warfare practices with new logos.

Antisocial warfare practices?
This is about practice that enabled child abuse. SocWel would reject advice and even disregard court rulings for placements.



Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter