Denzel was five years old and living in Victoria in the late 1970s when his parents separated. His mother was from a working class background and his wealthy father was an alcoholic. The ensuing custody battle meant Denzel and his siblings ‘were shipped around various schools during my primary school years … There’s always been a tug-of-war between them’.
Due to his ‘very turbulent sort of childhood’, Denzel began misbehaving which prompted his parents to seek the services of a psychologist.
‘About 11 apparently I started playing up as a child. I was reacting up to what was going on in the home situation. Was seeing a child psychologist … And then high school came. That was fun. Not. Got bullied … I just lashed out and got sent off to the institution and that’s where the abuse happened.’
After Denzel turned 13 he was sent for a few weeks to a government-run institution for children with mental health issues. While there, he attended a camp in regional Victoria for a few days, which was intended to give patients a break ‘from the grind of the inpatients’.
While in the camp toilet block, Denzel was sexually assaulted by an older resident, who among other things attempted to digitally penetrate him. Denzel called for help and the abuse stopped when staff members heard the disturbance and separated the two.
‘Very hard to get him off … He was about 15, 16, so a few years older than myself … I was very skinny at the time.’
After the incident, staff carried on as if nothing had happened. ‘We continued on with the camp for the rest of the time. Didn’t stop it or send me off or send him off somewhere else to go back to [the institution], or myself back to [the institution] to make sure I’m okay or anything like that. Nothing like that. Continued on with the camp … Couple of days it was.’
Denzel was already receiving counselling for his social issues, but was not provided with any further assistance to cope with the assault. A report was never made to the police and Denzel believes no action was taken because he was due to leave the institution and staff didn’t think it would be worth the effort. ‘I think they knew in the back of their minds that I was leaving in a week’s time.’
Shortly after the incident, Denzel began experimenting with alcohol but after he found a passion for environmental issues he stopped drinking before he’d turned 15. He briefly tried drugs but they ‘never did anything for me. And I suppose I saw the influence on my mum, ‘cause my mum was into it when I was a kid. And the area I grew up you’d see lots of it as well’.
For most of his adult years, Denzel repressed the memory of the assault but it resurfaced when it was revealed that a young family member had been abused by an adult. Denzel started experiencing flashbacks and nightmares, and has since ‘put two and two together’.
Some years ago, Denzel’s mental health regressed and he was admitted into hospital. ‘I actually got admitted to a psychiatric ward … They diagnosed me having depression because at the time I was having what they called chronic fatigue.’ Although currently in a relationship, he has trouble trusting people and becomes overwhelmed in the workplace, often losing his job as a result.
‘I cannot trust no one. At all. Even my mum, even my partner, family, friends. I don’t trust no one. It takes a lot of convincing for me to trust someone.’
‘What happened to me has affected me mentally. Trust issues. I don’t socialise very much. I’m not very intimate with my family and partner. So yeah it’s made a huge impact on me as a person. And I can’t seem to manage to hold down a job because of it as well. Because there are days where it’s overwhelming and I ring up sick ‘cause I can’t go to work and that. In this day and age you can lose your job, which I’ve done many times in my life.’
Denzel first disclosed the abuse to the Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) and sought counselling, but noted the Centre has been reluctant to help because of his geographical location. He has also tried to report it to the police but encountered the same problem.
‘I’ve had barriers with … knowmore, the police, even with CASA … They couldn’t direct me to the right area because technically speaking I’m not supposed to be talking to them because I’m in New South Wales but they’re a Victorian organisation. But I said, “Well, where do I go?” I still have that problem now. It shouldn’t matter where you’re from … Stuff based in New South Wales, all up in Sydney and Newcastle and Wollongong, that’s 700 kilometres from me, so it’s not an ideal situation for me to go to.’
‘I’m finding because I’m living in New South Wales and the abuse happened in Victoria there’s always a barrier so to speak. No one knows exactly how to deal with myself … I’m just finding the level of support’s not there for me.’
Denzel hopes to soon return to study and pursue his passion for environmental science. ‘Apart from that I’m keen to change the system so my [family] does not go through what I’ve been through.’