‘All I would like is the people responsible for my abuse to no longer be running the place and be treated as a hero while I’m a pariah.’
In the 1990s, when Dessie was 12 years old, his mother was working at a school near their home. While she attended to business, he was expected to stay in the playground and play basketball.
A man who worked at the school asked him to help move some furniture in a classroom. Once they were alone, the man sexually abused Dessie.
‘I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and vulnerable to what I more recently discovered were the predators that were allowed to roam [there].’
The abuse happened several more times over the course of about a month.
‘I never said anything to anybody. I never said anything to my parents, I never said anything to my friends. Because I never went to the school I had no idea … I thought I was the only one in this situation until very recently.’
The same man was later convicted of abusing other boys at the school.
Dessie said the abuse was ‘a secret buried within me’. He only ever disclosed to one person, a counsellor whom he started seeing after he had a breakdown in the mid-2000s. He has been on antidepressants since then, which he links back to the incidents of abuse.
Although he didn’t talk about his own experience, he publicly supported other survivors within his local community. In doing so he has found the community turning against him.
‘People say “What’s he doing getting involved in this? He’s a troublemaker. He’s got nothing to do with this”. I’m not going to shout from the rooftops that I actually do have something to do with this because it’s none of anybody’s business. It’s something I have to deal with.’
He said he’s been bullied and harassed, including being sent death threats. He’s also obtained evidence that someone started a rumour that his mother had sexually abused children, as a way to discredit him. Dessie said there is a pattern of behaviour to threaten and intimidate victims, and discredit those who speak up.
‘The place continues to be, as far as I’m concerned, an unsafe environment for children, in which the last thing that you would ever want to do, if you were abused, was come forward and say something.’
Since the start of the Royal Commission the community has set up a redress scheme, which Dessie said is ‘a complete and utter farce’.
‘I don’t want the redress from the people who are responsible for this happening to me. I want those people to be moved on and held to account and then the next people can come in and make redress.’
He said the scheme is not independent from the community in any way, so he can’t go there without everyone knowing.
‘I’m terrified of being identified to these people … I haven’t even sued them yet because I’m too scared to sue them because then they’re going to see me.’
Dessie said he really hopes the Commission can make a difference to how institutions respond to allegations of abuse.
‘It would be another tragedy and another injustice if it didn’t. The reality for somebody like me, who is outside the community – and I’d put it behind me until it all came up again – is that I can kind of deal with a lot of that stuff. But the ongoing injustice and the fact that the people who did this to me are still there, is more difficult to deal with than the abuse itself.’