‘As a child of 12, I was quite frankly a handful … I was absolutely a little shit.’
In the late 1970s, when he was 13, Kenneth was ‘charged with being an uncontrollable child … and I ended up in the juvenile justice system’. He was given a ‘general sentence’ which meant that he could have been detained in the juvenile justice facility outside of Sydney until he was 18, or let out after three months.
‘I was supposed to be in the juvenile justice system to receive counselling, to have some time out of my … family. Instead I received zero … no, none, not a dot’s worth of counselling.’
Kenneth told the Commissioner that he ‘ended up with a whole pile of kids who were little shits, who were in fact worse little buggers than I was, and started a life of crime, which makes me angry … But this isn’t about that. This is about the abuse that happened when I was in that particular environment’.
Kenneth was sexually abused by one of the correctional officers at the facility. ‘I vividly remember the name of the person who was very, very careful. As an adult I can see it clearly. He knew exactly what he was doing in every interaction. Very, very carefully selecting, carefully choosing timing …’
Kenneth was one of six boys taken to work at the officer’s house one day. ‘Oh, my God, in an era when you could take kids out of an institution to do a working bee at someone’s house … and of course, the five kids went with one correctional officer in the backyard, and I went with this person into his bedroom.’ This was the first of several occasions that the officer forced Kenneth to perform oral sex on him.
Kenneth told the Commissioner that the last thing he wanted to do was report the abuse, because, ‘I’m a 13-year-old child in a system potentially till I was 18 and the only thing I wanted to do was to stay low and stay quiet and stay as squeaky clean as I possibly could to turn that unknown period of time into 90 days. So I just lay as low as I could. Didn’t make any waves. No issues at all and was out of the system about three months later’.
When he got out, Kenneth was ‘a stupid child who had learned a whole pile of new skills … and genuinely proceeded down an absolutely despicable path involving stealing things … and got institutionalised again’. When he was 16 he spent an additional three months in another facility.
At the second facility rumours circulated about what had happened to Kenneth at the first place, ‘and I was officially declared to be, at that time what the kids called “a cat”, which was slang for a homosexual, and started having the living daylights beat out of me’. Kenneth discovered that the only way to deal with this was to ‘operate in a way that was not characteristic to me at all, and I started beating back … which scared me because … I’m not a thug’.
When he was 17, Kenneth had ‘a really worthwhile encounter’ with a social worker, and decided that he ‘was going to be operating within the rules of society’.
Kenneth told the Commissioner that ‘the flow-on effects that it’s had are just revolting … with the exception of one or two humans on the planet, I don’t have relationships with guys’. Most of Kenneth’s adult friends are female. He has also always been extremely cautious with his own children when they attended scouts, church or sleepovers.
Kenneth has been a cub leader for boys aged between seven and 10 for many years and really enjoys it. He told the Commissioner, ‘I’m an awesome scout leader’ and the boys love his ‘enthusiastic, bouncy’ personality.
Kenneth would love to train to lead older children, but the abuse he experienced has affected his ability to interact with teenagers. ‘I’m petrified of becoming what happened to me. So I decided I didn’t want to be in close environment with … youth, because I’ve read the statistics about people who turn into people who interfere with children. Oh my God, it’s almost a cyclical thing.’
Kenneth believes that sexual abuse of children is ‘beyond personal. It’s starting your sexual life with absolutely a hundred per cent the wrong focus. A sexual relationship … should be between two consenting people with equal power bases who have made a collective decision to do something. It shouldn’t be a power thing at all. Ever’. He told the Commissioner that ‘yes, I was a little shit … absolutely not the best child in the world, but I did not, in any way, shape or form, deserve, or solicit, or ask for [this]’.
Kenneth has always had feelings of guilt about not reporting the corrections officer to the police. ‘As a responsible adult … yes, I know, I should have walked into a police station and made a complaint … I know absolutely these people don’t go and do something once and then go, “Yep. Done it. Off”.’
Kenneth came to the Royal Commission, ‘so that other people who had spent years in the dark effectively going, “How do I even tell someone?” could learn about how they would … could be assisted’. Even if his abuser is ‘probably dead by now … I think I want to know that the organisations are vigilant and have stuff in place to spot that’.
Kenneth told the Commissioner, ‘I know that the sick feeling I have can never be removed. I just want to help make sure that nothing can ever happen again to other kids in care. Because that is what [it] should have been … care’.