‘If adult Kenny could go back to that dormitory right now I would beat that sergeant within an inch of his life, in front of everyone. Okay?’
As a small child Kenny was routinely assaulted by his father, both physically and sexually. ‘My earliest recollections are of being abused’, Kenny told the Commissioner. ‘To me it was just because an adult told me to do something so I just did it. I went along. Someone was paying me attention. They were being ”nice” to me.’ Kenny also reported an episode of repeated abuse by a young woman when he was just seven and an attack by a stranger in a public toilet block.
All this had left Kenny an extremely vulnerable 12-year-old in the mid-1970s. He was very much looking forward to escaping home for a few days to attend a Police Boys Club camp outside Sydney.
‘It was just a really, really horrible experience. That was the icing on the cake.’
The camp was more like a juvenile detention centre rather than a recreational weekend away. ‘There were regular beatings at morning prayers if you spoke.’ Boys were often thrashed on their bare buttocks with a leather strap. Kenny was caught talking in the dormitory. A police sergeant made him walk up and down the corridor, removing a piece of clothing each time as he turned. ‘And when it got to taking my underwear off that’s when I refused and broke down and cried.’
‘I didn’t expect anything to be good at home, that was just status quo. That was home. This was meant to be something better. And it wasn’t.’
Kenny believes that humiliation and disappointment has affected his life as much as the brutal abuse he suffered at home.
When he was 16, a family crisis forced Kenny’s younger siblings to go to the police. The police called Kenny in and he also made a statement about his father’s abuse. Kenny had learnt to mask his emotions, however. ‘The police had a hard time swallowing the story despite the fact three kids pretty much said the same thing.’
‘The police then tried to implicate my mother and essentially said to me, “If you continue with the statement that you’ve made, your mother will likely go to jail as well”’.
Kenny considered his mother to be a fellow victim of their father and did not want to see her in jail. He withdrew his statement.
‘What the Police Boys camp did to me was instil an inherent distrust of police officers because police officers were running the camp. So I had no expectation that the police would believe anything I had to say at any point in my life, post that activity.’
‘I connect that event at the Police Boys camp with my father escaping punishment. That’s probably the greatest impact on my life because as an adult I feel extremely guilty about not doing anything about my father. Because I haven’t seen him since I was 16 … Who knows what he’s been able to do since then?’
On the streets at 16, Kenny became an alcoholic and intravenous drug user. He couldn’t continue at school and dropped out. He lived on the streets for a while. Life became perilous, but Kenny discovered he had emotional strength and a capacity for hard work. He eventually joined the Australian Defence Force and built a career in the army.
‘I’d been living on the streets, I’d been drinking, I’d been fighting, I had all these problems and I got to the army and it was structured … To me it was the first time in my life when I didn’t worry about anything. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I loved it.’
Kenny married and has been with his wife 30 years. They have grown children, all of whom have made successful lives.
‘I was terrified of becoming a parent’, Kenny admitted. He was afraid his own experience of childhood abuse would lead him to harm his own children. ‘When my son was born I just felt automatic love … Despite what happens in early life you can love your family, you can be a decent person. In the main.’
‘I don’t know what the key is though, to some people surviving and some not. I’ve seen it on the battlefield, some people fall to pieces and some don’t.’