‘It might happen 45 years ago, and it’s like it happened yesterday.’
Damion was a baby when he and his two siblings were found abandoned and malnourished in a room in Sydney in the mid-1960s. He was made a ward of the state, and placed with ‘very religious’ foster parents, Maude and Stan Hartfield, who lived in a nearby beachside suburb. Damion lived with the Hartfields until his late teens, called them Mum and Dad, and took their surname as his own.
Damion was sent to the local Catholic school which was run by the Sisters of Mercy. In kindergarten, he was sexually abused by a fellow student, Adam Blacker, who he thinks was about 10 years old at the time.
Adam wouldn’t let Damion out of the toilet. ‘Every time I tried to push him out of the way, he was a lot taller than me, he refused to let me out. So he took me to one of the cubicles and undressed me, and undressed himself … Then basically, he kissed me. Got me to perform oral sex on him, which I didn’t say no because I’m only five years old, I didn’t know any different. And then of course he performed sex on me, had anal sex with me. Enjoyed himself. Then dressed me, and said to me, if I did report it, harm would come to me, and harm would come to my family.’
Damion ‘took off’ and ran home. Even though he was visibly upset, his mother told him to go back to school. He ‘kicked her, and carried on, and refused to go back’.
Damion reported the boy to the head nun at the school, and to his case worker. He said, ‘This has happened. I’m frightened here’. However, ‘no one understood, no one wanted to know’.
‘I was told not to tell lies because I would end up in Boystown.’
Later that year, Damion was sexually abused by a teacher, Miss Roche, while he was rehearsing for the school play. ‘She took me to the toilet … and the next thing I know she’s pulling my pants down. And I’m doing the boy business, and I thought, “Geez this is weird”. So then, pulled my pants up, and she touched me … and I thought, “What’s going on here?” … And she kisses me, pulls me pants down, and starts giving me oral sex. And I didn’t say nothing. And then she pulls her dress up. She’s got no pants on, and she says, “Lick here. It won’t hurt ya”. And of course, being a naive five year old, I did what I was asked. And I said, “well, this tastes yuck, not nice, I’m not doing this anymore”. So consequently she pulled me pants up and I went back.’
The next day, Miss Roche took Damion to the beach. In the back of her car, she gave him lollies, kissed him, and said, ‘I only do this for school kids I like’. This happened often over a number of months, but Damion didn’t say anything. ‘I thought, well, what can I say? No one’s believed me about the other one, so no one’s going to believe me about this.’
Damion reported Miss Roche to the head nun and his case worker. ‘They both told me I was lying again. And of course they made up stories to tell my mum that I was a bad boy at school, I didn’t have any friends, I was always in trouble, which wasn’t the case. It was just them trying to cover up what had happened in the school because, at that time, if things like that had got out … it would have done a lot of damage to the image of the church, and I’d say a lot of parents would have taken their kids out of the school.’
Since Damion was fostered, not adopted, he was ‘too frightened’ to tell the strict and religious Hartfields. If he tried to say anything, his dad would say, ‘Oh no, the church couldn’t do this. Oh no the church couldn’t do that. You’re going to go to hell if you don’t go to church’.
When the nuns told his parents that he was ‘retarded’, Damion was moved to the local public school where things settled down. However, he ‘never performed well at school’ and had trouble concentrating. He left in Year 8 after he had repeated a few years, and his ability to get employment suffered as a result.
Damion feels that he lost his youth to two ‘dirtbags getting their jollies’. He ‘always felt dirty’, and used to wash his hands until they bled. ‘Wouldn’t matter what I was touching, I’d have to go and wash my hands three or four times when I was younger’, he said. He felt unable to cope, and contemplated ending his life.
However, over 20 years ago, he met his supportive wife, and disclosed the abuse to his mother-in-law who responded by being ‘very concerned’ for him. He vowed to never hurt his wife, and has never hit their children who she is raising in the faith Damion now rejects.
‘I couldn’t go to the christenings at the Catholic church. That really hurt me. I couldn’t go to their first communions. I couldn’t even go to my mum and dad’s funerals when they passed away.’
About five years ago, Damion reported the sexual abuse to the Sisters of Mercy, and like a ‘rottweiler’, did his own legal work. He felt blocked at every turn by their attempts to protect the reputation of the school and church. They denied the existence of records, and assured him that, had the head nun known, she would have intervened. Damion replied by saying ‘“Well, Sister, I know where the head nun is. She’s down in hell cooking the BBQ and handing out the beers” … She nearly fell off the perch … And I said, “Sister, have you ever been raped? You don’t know what I’m going through. You don’t know the pain”. I said, “All you do is cover up”’.
A mediation agency prepared an independent report, and Damion accepted a settlement of around $20,000 on the condition that he be able to keep fighting should further information come to light. ‘And I haven’t finished. I promise you. I’ll keep fighting you till I get what I think I deserve, and I’ll keep fighting you till I die if I have to.’ He has since reported the abuse to the New South Wales Police.
Damion had many recommendations to make. He would like to see the culture of government departments changed through privatisation, and the employment of relevantly trained staff on a performance basis. In order to take away the urge to abuse, he believed that Catholic priests should be better trained, should be allowed to marry, and should not live alone in the presbytery. Assuming the Church wants their flock to return, Damion suggested that they ‘be honest and say we stuffed up’, and involve lay people in deciding what needs to be done about child sexual abuse within its ranks. He would also like to see Cardinal Pell leave the protection of the Vatican and return to Australia because ‘When they find out one of their own has done the wrong thing, they move them. And of course, it’s like a production line. They send them somewhere else. Another child gets abused. It just keeps going, going, going, and that’s not going to solve the problem’.
These days, Damion has the support of his family, a counsellor, and a case worker. He is also pursuing a number of goals, including contacting his birth mother, completing distance education, and changing careers in order to help others who have been through similar battles. ‘What I have been through, or the journey, I feel I’ve got a lot to give to an organisation’, he said. ‘I would have the potential to push open doors that don’t open.’
However, needing to feel ‘secure’, Damion struggles to leave the house or enjoy family life and friendships. ‘I don’t celebrate Christmas. I don’t celebrate birthdays. I don’t go out. I don’t have any friends. I’m antisocial … On weekends, I sit at home, and my wife takes the kids out. So she’s very understanding because of this. But this impact has really tore my life to pieces.’