‘An apology doesn’t really make it any better. Because they should be held responsible, the police officers at the time that we tried telling, “This is what’s happening to us”. And what, because they didn’t want to listen or didn’t want to do the paperwork? Now they want to think, “Oh, if we say sorry, it’s going to make it all better”.
'It’s not going to make it better. Why didn’t they do something at the time? Why aren’t they responsible? They could have stopped it by taking us out of that situation when we reported it to them, but they didn’t want to listen.’
Denny hasn’t been out of an institution for longer than a few weeks since his mid-teens.
Around the age of 10 he ran away from home and a physically abusive father. ‘I just said, “No, I’m not going to keep putting up with this”, so I took off.’
Denny ended up in a juvenile justice centre in Victoria. It was a confronting and brutal place, where sexual abuse and humiliation were normalised.
‘Because I seen it growing up, I knew what was going to happen … The officers making young fellas shower in front of older blokes. Making you fight for meals. When they strip search you, they get you to bend over and they shove the baton up your backside. You’d go to say something and the officer would say, “You’re a liar”, so they’d take your TV away and they’d turn your power off at night …
‘It’s horrible. Absolutely horrible what they used to do there to young kids.’
Denny ran away but was soon picked up by the police. When he told them what was happening at the centre, they just took him back. After running away again, he was put in the high-security section, with a mix of boys aged 10 to 18.
‘The 18-year-old boys used to pick on the young fellas … they’d stand over you. It was just horrible. And if you tell the officers, they’d say, “Yeah, we’ll look into it” … They knew what was going on.’
Denny managed to escape again and this time headed interstate. After being caught, he was put into another juvenile detention centre in Queensland.
‘That was the next extreme … Officers were making inmates do sexual things to each other just to get a feed, to get rewards. Officers would stand there … making you fondle yourself in the shower [and] make out they were searching for contraband.
'I still have a hard time here today with these blokes. It brings back memories, brings back things that I’ve buried for so long … a lot of it’s still in my mind and it’s still fresh.’
The staff listened in on phone calls. If Denny rang his mother and began to talk about the abuse, ‘they’d hang up on you because you weren’t allowed to tell nobody’. He also tried to tell his lawyer, but again wasn’t believed.
‘Your lawyer would go, “I know it’s bad in jail but it’s not that bad”. They didn’t really want to know about it.’
After another escape attempt, Denny was placed in a second centre where he was subjected to regular humiliation, including being forced to strip in the mess hall, on walkways, always in front of other inmates. Now he ‘can’t even go into a dorm … with a group of people. If the block gets overcrowded … I feel unsafe’.
Denny has been in adult jail since his late teens. He’s used both alcohol and drugs to ‘deal with’ the trauma of the abuse, and this has been the root of his reoffending.
‘What comes with the drugs and alcohol is the crime, and then come the institutions.’
As he has grown older, the memories and flashbacks have become more regular and vivid. Denny is in a single cell because he ‘can’t live with so many people … It’s really truly wrecking me. I’m not eating, I can’t sleep’.
With the support of Relationships Australia, he was determined to speak to the Royal Commission.
‘If you don’t speak, no one knows … and I thought maybe now’s the time to get it out there. If I can stop one kid from going through what I went through then, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve succeeded.'
But engaging with the Commission has not only brought back a lot of pain. Denny has also received threats from other inmates after he was seen visiting a counsellor, and prison officers have asked him intrusive and unsettling questions during a strip search. He feels vulnerable and targeted.
‘I’m getting really scared at the moment because I feel like everyone is laughing at me from the outside and is ready to attack me.’
Denny has attempted to take his own life, but at these low points he found unlikely support. ‘The older blokes in the jail … actually listen to you. Blokes you wouldn’t even expect it from, dangerous criminals … They’ve all been through juvenile centres: “Don’t give up, young brother. Don’t give up. Keep strong. Someone will eventually listen to you”.’
When he gets out of prison, Denny is hoping to completely change his life. And he wants to help the police in making sure the perpetrators of the abuse are held accountable.
‘I don’t think money can fix it. I just want the people who are responsible held responsible. They need to address it … so it can be dealt with properly. Too much goes on behind closed doors.’