Keneth’s parents both shared the responsibilities of working while raising a large family in Brisbane in the 1970s. Keneth was approximately five years old when he was enrolled in a local kindergarten.
There a female teacher, who he later estimated was in her 20s, would instruct him to sit under her chair and touch her genital area. Keneth recalls the same teacher would sit him on her lap and give him ‘butterfly kisses’ by fluttering her eyelashes on his cheek while he played with her exposed breasts. These incidents occurred on several occasions until he was moved to a different kindergarten. Keneth never told anyone about them because he was too young to understand it was wrong.
A short time later, Keneth was taken from his new kindergarten by a couple in a car. His memories of this time are fuzzy, but he recalls a female removed his shirt and lowered his pants in order to inspect his genitals and back, before commenting to her male counterpart ‘He seems okay’. Keneth believes this couple may have been police investigating the female who abused him, or that he was under suspicion of being inappropriate with other children. ‘I could’ve been a bit touchy-feely with the other kids.’
Years later, when he was about 12 years old, Keneth was going through puberty when he engaged in ‘inappropriate dealings’ with two younger girls aged three and six. The incident was witnessed and his parents took swift action to tell him it was inappropriate. ‘My parents counselled me and said, “That’s wrong, stop doing that sort of thing”. It all clicked, it all fell into place.’
Although Keneth has never acted inappropriately with young children again, it has haunted him his whole life. He has lived with the belief that he unwittingly committed an unforgiveable act.
‘I went through the change not knowing what was right or wrong. So there is a discrepancy there and the guilt I’ve carried for many years that I’ve done, which was basically [where] your brain goes as a young boy … What I did was bordering on the abnormal because of the vast age gap.’
As an adult, Keneth married and had children. After the breakdown of his marriage, he turned to alcohol and drugs. ‘I was self-medicating.’ When his ex-wife remarried and moved interstate with their children and her new husband, Keneth experienced a psychotic episode that lasted three months. Keneth tried to fight the removal of his children but was incarcerated in a psychiatric facility at the time. ‘It’s classic, you’ve heard it all before. Two children, estranged mother of the children, had to watch the children grow up with a stepfather that they’re closer to.’
While in hospital, Keneth was diagnosed with bipolar type 2 and prescribed drugs. He was released and returned to work while continuing to access psychiatric support. It was during a session with a psychiatrist that he revealed the abuse that had happened to him while in kindergarten as well as his actions when he was 12 years old.
‘After my psychosis I got out, I started working … When I told her [the psychiatrist] about me feeling like a perpetrator when I was going through the change, that was when I started to get better.’
Keneth still experiences feelings of guilt and anxiety, even though he looks back and sees himself as naive and poorly supervised as a 12-year-old.
‘That’s been my biggest Achilles heel emotionally, because that’s on me … It’s like if you go to a theme park and you’re riding the big ride and you think “Yay, yay I’m happy”. Then you go, “Oh but that happened. But I did that”. You know what I mean? So there’s the up and down … Even though it was explained to me that really a person going through the change has to be supervised, has to be. Educated for that.’
Several years ago Keneth reported his kindergarten abuser to the police but the case was unable to progress due to insufficient evidence. At the time Keneth felt like his case was dismissed in favour of more recent ones.
‘They were very sympathetic, but one day when I rang back and had a detective over the phone cross-examine me and poke holes in my story, and say, “Well that’s what’s gonna happen in court”. And I’m thinking, "That’s past your remit, isn’t it?" … I felt like they were triage which means take the cases that were more urgent, like they do in M*A*S*H.’
After ‘many years without a relationship’, Keneth had recently become engaged to his partner who is aware of his history and is very supportive. He has never sought compensation for the abuse he experienced in kindergarten, even though he believes it altered his life and is responsible for his bouts of rage and difficulty trusting people.
Keneth strongly believes that children should be educated about ‘intimate relationships at appropriate times of development’ in order to avoid being abused or acting inappropriately.
‘I do think it’s just a case of I feel a bit cheated. If I was investigated for whatever reason, whether they thought I was getting tampered with at home or I was tampering with the other kids or I was abnormal behaviour or someone was tampering with me – where’s the counselling? I feel cheated. Just a little, “Hey come here, that was wrong. When you get older your body’ll go through changes and you’ll wanna do that sort of thing. But at the moment go play footy”. You know, simple.’
‘I just believe in being truthful and blunt. Because a child will try to figure it out and they can’t. They just need to be told, “This right, this is wrong” by a trusted person.’