Fenton's story

At about three or four years of age, Fenton was admitted to a hospital in country Victoria. While he was in one of the wards a man and woman came in and, not noticing Fenton was there, proceeded to have what Fenton later realised was sex on one of the children’s beds. When the couple eventually saw Fenton, they both went to him and started touching and kissing him.

Following this experience, Fenton started trying to copy the couple’s behaviour and do what they had done to him to a girl who lived next door and was the same age as him.

‘I never got into trouble but I felt bad ... I’ve had a lot of counselling, ’cause I went and saw a counsellor when I was living in Queensland a few years ago because I was sick of having thoughts of little kids. I stopped acting on that by about the age of 11 – stopped trying to have sex with kids or be nude with kids or get them to touch me. But then I went and got counselling because I still had the thoughts and they were horrible.’

Fenton said that as a child he felt ‘stuck’ in wanting to have sex with the girl next door but as he got older it ‘disgusted’ him.

‘I didn’t even know it was wrong’, he said. ‘It just felt bad. It felt good and felt bad. It’s like I wanted it and I guess in adulthood it’s continued that way with sex feeling good and bad at the same time.’

In the late 1980s, Fenton was identified as a gifted student at his Sydney public high school and selected for one-on-one tutoring by teacher, Adam Hillman. Over a period of years, Hillman took Fenton out at night to theatre shows and to dinner and he’d often end up driving round Kings Cross pointing out ‘bondage’ places.

After moving house and schools, 15-year-old Fenton one day contacted Hillman and said he missed Sydney. Hillman invited him to come to his place for the weekend. Over dinner with Hillman and his partner, Fenton was given numerous cocktails and he became progressively drunk.

Back at Hillman’s home, the couple then had sex in front of Fenton and got him to participate. ‘From the restaurant to the abuse and the next day things are really hazy’, Fenton said. ‘… It’s hazy but for so long it was just this black. Almost immediately after, the next day, I just hated myself and everything started going downhill from there.’

Within a week of returning to his family, Fenton had cut his wrists. He felt ‘awake in a nightmare’. A pattern of self-harm became entrenched over the following years.

‘I was a Christian till I was 17 because from 15, after I’d slashed my wrists, I just started cutting all over my body. It was the only thing that would sort of release that pain I would feel inside my head. I still have lots of scars. After two years of doing that, I said, “I don’t believe in God” so I went to try and get help. That was the first time I went to go get help from counselling. I saw the GP regularly but then I got sick of taking the tablets that I was on and I just told him I was feeling better.’

Often when Fenton cut himself he’d smear the blood in his diary. ‘It was like my diary had a personality and I used to say, “I’m bleeding for you”,’ he said.

Despite admissions to mental health facilities, Fenton didn’t ever disclose his previous experiences of abuse. The first time he spoke of it was in 1999 after a psychologist asked him directly whether he’d ever been sexually abused. He said he had and spoke to her about Hillman’s abuse. In more recent years he’d told another counsellor about the earlier abuse in hospital.

Fenton told the Commissioner that he started using marijuana in 1994 when he was 20. He continued to smoke for many years and had at one stage become addicted to codeine. After entering rehab he stopped all drugs and said he had his two children in mind when trying not to use again.

In the mid-2010s, Fenton went to New South Wales Police to report Hillman, but felt overwhelmed and couldn’t make a formal statement. ‘I was too upset, I couldn’t keep it together and they were like, “Well what do you want to do with it?”, and I said, “My counsellor and my wife have suggested I go to the police and report it”. And talking with them I was just a blubbering mess … and I couldn’t decide why I was telling them. I didn’t know.’

As well as affecting him, Fenton said the abuse and his subsequent harmful behaviour had hurt his parents. They’d been greatly worried after he dropped out of university after two years and as they watched his struggle to hold down a job.

‘They’ve had extreme anxiety and fear from soon after I dropped out of uni’, Fenton said. He had the impression that his mother thought him responsible for his brother’s drug addiction because of the ‘stress that I put on the family’. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to tell them about the abuse.

‘I think if I told them now, they would: one, blame themselves and they would relive it all, and I don’t want that for them. I’ve spoken to other survivors and they’ve said the same thing – they won’t tell their parents because they don’t want them to relive it. Even though I’m not employed at the moment, they’re happy that I’m happy.

‘I get to see my kids – it’s not an ideal situation being separated but I have lovely kids and I get to see them and they get to share time with their grandkids so life, it’s as happy as it can be in a separated situation and my mental health they know. They’ve got the journey of knowing that people with mental health get well, come off their medication, get sick, come back on their medication so they’re on that journey and they’re happy that now I’m back and stable again.’

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