The day five-year-old Kane and his big brother Travis were taken by the Department of Child Protection (DCP) was ‘the worst day of my life’. It was the early 1990s and Kane had thrown a tantrum. His dad, usually a tolerant man, had lost his temper and beaten him badly.
At school Kane complained about his sore back from this ‘one-off incident’. The school reported the matter to the DCP, and the boys went into foster care for three months. Kane agrees authorities should have acted, but wishes the DCP had taken less drastic action – courses for his parents, monitoring and support – so the kids could have stayed at home.
Kane blamed himself for what happened next: if he hadn’t angered his father, if he hadn’t told the teachers, ‘my life would not have changed so dramatically’.
The brothers were moved around often, physically abused by other foster kids, and mistreated by their carers. One placement was particularly bad. ‘They made us sleep outside, eat outside and shower without hot water. They treated us like we were animals.’
Kane’s parents separated, and he was returned to his mother. When he turned 10 ‘my stepfather basically convinced my mother to throw me out of the house’. Travis and an older sister had already been kicked out.
Again, Kane was bounced around from one foster placement to another. He spent Christmas in a youth hostel outside Perth, so that he could spend time with 12-year-old Travis, who was living there. His brother ‘proceeded to sexually assault me on a number of occasions’, stating ‘you need to do this to learn how to be a man ... At the time, it didn’t feel right, it seemed strange and odd and painful’.
A few years ago Kane saw in the paper that some staff from the hostel had been charged with child sex offences, during the period Travis was there. ‘This is how I have made sense of it. I believe my brother must have been sexually assaulted for him to do what he did to me.’
Kane feels that if Travis was sexually abused, this might have influenced his behaviour and ‘understanding of life ... That doesn’t excuse him for what he did, but perhaps he was a bit confused himself’.
Kane told his caseworker about this abuse a few years later, but was not offered supports or any further investigation. ‘I should not have been left alone with these experiences at the hostel, left to fend for myself.’
Aged 11, in another hostel, Kane was sexually abused by two older girls, who were known for their violence. ‘One of the girls shoved a sock into my mouth and pinned me down, and the other pulled my pants down and tried to violate me ... I froze when it was happening, and avoided eye contact with them. I wasn't sure if they were going to bash me. It was terrifying.’
He reported this abuse to his carers, asking them unsuccessfully for a secure door to his room so he could feel safe. He told his caseworker too, who advised him to wait it out there as ‘I would be moved into a foster placement in the near future’.
The cumulative impacts of the abuse became overwhelming. ‘I would have bouts of uncontrollable crying. I would sit in cupboards and I would cry, I had outbursts of violence when I would trash my bedroom in the hostel and not know why I had done it, I would tear up paper and throw things at the walls, I destroyed my favourite toys and anything that reminded me of happier times before I was taken into care. I withdrew at school and became a recluse.’
Kane decided to end his life. ‘I had had enough, life had been unfair so far and I just wanted to be understood. I did not know how to ask for help, I was not old enough to understand what mental health was, or whom to seek help for the depression and anxiety that I was experiencing.
‘I did know, however, that I could not tolerate any more rejections or moves and changes in my life. I wrapped some cord around my neck at school and walked in a direction that would eventually choke me. Up until this point I had always put on a brave smiling face, and learnt how to answer the right questions in order to survive.’
The DCP provided counselling after this, but the foster father in Kane’s final placement said receiving this help was ‘weak and unmanly’. Being constantly reminded that his carers could send him away, he went along with their wishes and told the DCP he didn’t need therapy anymore.
When the DCP advised Kane he could seek compensation for the assaults he had experienced, these foster parents convinced him not to do so. ‘In hindsight I wish I had have been able to talk to a lawyer about that at the time.’ Additionally, ‘I was never encouraged or supported to talk to the police about the offences committed against me.’
After Kane left school, he completed several qualifications and forged a successful career. He formed a relationship and had a child, and for a while things were good. When a state-based redress scheme was announced, Kane didn’t apply as he didn’t need the money, and considered others more deserving. Keeping his childhood trauma suppressed eventually became impossible however.
‘All the pain that had been building up in me for all of these years came up, and I couldn't bury it any longer. I was like a pressure cooker that exploded.’ His relationship broke down, he seriously self-harmed, he lost contact rights with his child and his employment was seriously affected. He has since engaged with counselling and regained access to his child, and has a good relationship with his dad these days too.
Kane feels strongly that survivors of child sexual abuse should receive all the counselling they require, regardless of their capacity to pay. He currently cannot access therapy, although he would very much like to. ‘I just don’t have the funds now ... I really can’t afford to (a) take time off work, and (b) pay the gap.’
The government’s mental health plan only allows for 10 sessions a year, which Kane says is ‘not enough’ for people who’ve carried their suffering for so long. ‘Obviously, being childhood trauma, it’s a lot longer process, because you’ve had a lot longer time to have that scar, or hurt, manifest.’