Dennis spent an ‘idyllic childhood’ on a small farm in regional Victoria in the 1970s. He and his siblings went to the local school and attended Sunday school in the hall next to the local church.
When Dennis heard a woman speaking on the radio in the 2010s, about her two daughters who had been sexually abused by a priest, repressed memories of his own childhood sexual abuse at the Sunday school were triggered. Dennis told the Commissioner that he believes that one of the Sunday school teachers groomed him, and then began touching him inappropriately.
‘I hated going there … I would go and hide.’ Each week he hoped that the siren for the local fire service would go off, so that he wouldn’t have to go to Sunday school.
Dennis told the Commissioner that the abuse had a significant impact on his life. ‘I interfered with a boy when I was 13, and he was four. A peer of mine found out … The first day of Form 2, my peer … confronted me with it. He said to me, “I know something that could wreck you”, and I just went red and … from that [time] my life became a nightmare. From that time on, till I was 25.’
Dennis’s behaviour deteriorated and his schoolwork suffered. ‘It just became an obsession that I’d done something wrong, that I was a paedophile. Was I homosexual … I tried to compensate, all sorts of compensatory behaviours to try and prove otherwise and also … “Who else knew about this? Who has he told?”’
Throughout his teenage years, Dennis ‘went into heterosexual promiscuity’. He became aggressive with his siblings, and his relationship with other family members was strained. He began drinking, and had thoughts of taking his own life. When he was 25 he told his girlfriend about the young boy, and felt ‘a great weight went off my shoulder’. At that time, he still had no recollection of his own experience of sexual abuse.
After he told his girlfriend, and then his mother, he began seeing his family doctor and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He was put on a disability pension, which he has been on ever since.
Dennis told the Commissioner, ‘I guess I’m just an abuse survivor, whatever that means … that means to me perhaps … I’m talking about … a lot of damage done to me … self-inflicted, but I don’t blame myself so much anymore. I’ve stopped blaming myself for what I did when I was 13.'
‘Being on a pension, I sort of went into isolation because I was worried I’d be asked what I do for a living. As a man, my father worked all his life … and so I sort of wouldn’t engage because the first question you get asked is, “What do you do for a living?”, so I wouldn’t know what to say … but now, I think … something happened to me … and I forgive myself and I’ll say, “I think I’m an abuse survivor”.’