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Damien Michael's story

Damien’s dad wasn’t around a lot when he was young. When he did come home he was often drunk and physically abusive to his wife. Damien felt like he pretty much raised himself.

His family had a long naval history and in the early 1960s he applied to join the navy as a junior recruit. He was 16 years old and ‘sexually naive’, when he arrived at the Western Australian training base.

A few nights after he arrived, he was sexually assaulted by eight senior recruits. He had gone into the toilet block, which had no doors on the cubicles, when he was attacked by these boys.

They stripped Damien naked, pinned him down and smeared boot polish around his penis. Something like honey was rubbed around his pubic area and cotton wool stuck to it. ‘A burning type of substance was then digitally forced into my anus, and rubbed into my buttock area.’

This assault was interrupted when a camp patrol was detected nearby and the perpetrators fled. Damien was distressed and scrubbed himself down in the showers and returned to his quarters. He didn’t tell anyone what had happened to him.

Damien was subjected to other physical and psychological abuse. One time, he was forced into the boxing ring, armed with only one hour’s training. With his placid nature, and no prior fighting experience, ‘it was three rounds of slaughter to me’.

He was ‘beaten to a pulp, resulting in a shattered nose, two deep cuts to my eyebrows, severe eye and body bruising’. The injuries he sustained have caused him to ‘go through life looking like a punch-drunk thug’.

Damien also witnessed acts of cruelty to other young recruits and sexual activity between them. As a result of these experiences, he developed a nervous tic, which his division officer repeatedly punished him for.

‘For my age, I was naive, immature not savvy, and took all the rubbish dished out to heart.’

He was never offered any counselling or support.

When Damien was 19, another naval officer plied him with alcohol. He woke up in this officer’s apartment with his shoes and pants removed. Because of his intoxication, he does not have clear memories of what happened during this time.

However, ‘by the pain in my anal area I deducted that anal intercourse had occurred. When I returned to the ship I informed the officer of the watch of this assault. His response was “Forget about it, no-one will believe you, save yourself the embarrassment”’.

After this incident, ‘I would often go to the upper deck guardrail in a depressed state and contemplate jumping overboard’. Damien was placed under observation for alcoholism and admitted to hospital with respiratory illness.

He was offered a discharge on medical grounds, but refused, ‘not being able to comprehend what was offered’. It is a decision he now regrets.

Within a year, Damien was discharged on the grounds of his alcoholism. The officer who facilitated this stated Damien would probably be dead soon and so should not bother applying for other training or positions.

‘At my medical examination the only question asked was, are you alright? Yes ... In my view, the responsible treatment from competent professionals should have been sectioned placement in a mental institution for treatment.’

After leaving the navy, Damien was successfully employed for many years. He gave up alcohol in the late 1970s, which vastly improved his quality of life. Since becoming sober, he has been very protective of his kids and grandkids. ‘I won’t say I was prior to that, because the priorities when you’re drinking aren’t the same.’

When Damien was in his 50s, he experienced a breakdown, with recurring nightmares of being killed at sea. As a result of this, he became unable to work and was granted a disability pension.

Damien has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. ‘In recalling these events, I have had severe chest pains and panic attacks.’ He takes medication for these conditions and has been seeing a psychiatrist for many years.

In recent years, a man at the Returned & Services League told him about the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART). He attempted to gain a recognition payment through DART, however he had missed the deadline for making an application.

He has not disclosed the sexual abuse to the navy as yet. His aim now is to secure the equivalent of a veterans ‘gold card’, to enable his medical expenses to be covered.

Damien has known his wife for over 40 years, but only told her about the abuse he experienced two years ago. ‘I suppose she was shocked about it. I didn’t go into any great detail.’

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