On the night five-year-old Dean and his older brother were removed from their mother’s care, he witnessed a violent scene in the family home.
‘My mother’s husband was a drunk, alcoholic abuser who used to bash my mother senseless all the time and one night he was abusing her. I was screaming and yelling, and he bashed me with a belt that had metal studs in it. The neighbours called the police, and they came and took us away.’
Dean was made a ward of the state, and placed in a government reception centre in Victoria in the early 1970s. Two years later he and his brother moved to a non-denominational orphanage, where he was sexually abused from about the age of 10.
‘There was a female caregiver, and she would make me and this little girl simulate having sex, and she would sit there and watch us. We’d be naked and so on. Other times she would make us perform sexual acts on each other. We’d be not wanting to do it, and if we didn’t, she’d give us a bit of a slap.
‘I didn’t know what I was doing, I feel sorry for the young girl, a few times she wet herself. That was terrible. It was disgraceful and disgusting.’
In the late 1970s the boys were transferred to a Catholic children’s home in regional Victoria where they lived for 12 months, before being placed with a foster family by an Anglican foster care service for another year.
‘I shared a room with my brother and the foster father would creep into our bedroom at night and perform sexual acts on us. He told us if we told anyone he’d kill us. I told the foster mother, but she didn’t believe me and said if I told anyone else, they wouldn’t believe me either because I was a “home boy”. In orphanages, if you didn’t know how to survive, you got eaten alive.’
Dean and his brother reported the abuse to their foster mother and were moved on to another foster home. Dean left care on his 18th birthday.
‘I dabbled in drugs a long time ago, was a very angry man for a very long time. But I’ve been very lucky. I made a choice in my life to go down a certain pathway. I taught myself to read, taught myself to write, educated myself and have been reasonably successful. I always wanted to better myself.’
Despite forging a solid career and building a family, Dean said his past has tainted what should otherwise have been positive experiences.
‘Once you have children, you just realise what happened to me was wrong. From being institutionalised for a long time and being abused, emotionally, physically, sexually ... I couldn’t bathe my daughter without feeling like it was wrong. As a dad I should be able to do that and not have all these horrible feelings, I don’t think I should be made to feel like that.’
Dean sought therapy to deal with his past following the Forgotten Australians apology, but still suffers nightmares and feels he can’t trust others.
‘There’s always been a stigma attached to me, I’ve probably been a bit ashamed of it and shame carries with you for a very, very long time. I don’t rest easy with a lot of it. I was in the care of the state, it was the state’s responsibility to look after me, and they never did. Maybe I can forgive a little bit, but I will never forget. I want those who abused me to be held accountable, and the kids in care to have a much brighter future and better experience than I did.’