Kent grew up in ‘very dysfunctional household’ in Sydney’s western suburbs. His stepfather was a cruel man, who would punish Kent and his brother harshly. If Kent wet the bed, he’d be sent to sleep in the garage with the dogs.
‘Mum just tried the best she could to give us the best kind of upbringing. But she really loved this man.’ When his mother became aware of some of these punishments, ‘she objected and tried to intervene, but he bashed her. Broke her leg, broke her jaw’.
Both Kent and his brother were sexually abused for a couple of years by a neighbour, from when he was around nine years old. He was scared to tell anyone, in case it made his stepfather do more bad things to the family. ‘I didn’t know what to do, so I just held it in.’
Ultimately, his mother and stepfather separated. Kent started truanting from school, ‘becoming uncontrollable’ and getting in with ‘the wrong crowd’. His mum found work, ‘and things were going well for once in our lives. But I was already tormented’.
In the mid-1980s, when Kent was around 14 years old, he spent eight months in a juvenile remand centre. A ‘timid’ child, he found the centre ‘confronting’, and was picked on by other inmates.
‘I used to get victimised ... I was just one of those people that the bullies picked on.’ He was also sexually abused by another resident. ‘One bloke kind of stood over me’, and one day in the dormitory ‘he kind of just confronted me, making me [give] oral sex. And I didn’t really want to, but I just felt really intimidated, because of what happened to me prior’. This same boy repeated the abuse on a separate occasion.
Kent reported to an officer that ‘the boys are picking on me’, and was told ‘if you weren’t such a little prick you’d be at home with your parents. So man up and deal with it’.
This response made him reluctant to disclose the sexual abuse. It ‘threw me that bad that I thought, what am I going to do here? So I just went into shock, and didn’t want to talk no more.
‘I would have opened up to him, but the response he gave me just threw me and I thought, I’m not talking to these people. If I say something here, I could die ... I was in a lot of fear.’
After this time, he was sent to live with foster carers, but this quickly broke down. He also spent some time living with his natural father. This was unsuccessful too.
Kent started self-harming and sniffing lighter fluid, progressing to harder drugs. He stole to support his habits, and has been incarcerated numerous times. ‘And that’s been my life for the last 30 years.’
When Kent became a parent, he found the abuse he had experienced affected his ability to care for his daughter with his partner. ‘Being sexually abused, I wasn’t around when she was changing the nappy and that, I felt uncomfortable.’
He tried to avoid his daughter’s bath times too. ‘I felt embarrassed, because of what happened to me ... I just felt embarrassed to hold my own daughter.’ Although he has a ‘really good relationship’ with his kids, ‘the bond’s not there that should be, because of what happened’.
‘I never smacked me kids, I’ve always kind of put them on a pedestal ... I was always told you’re an idiot, you’re dysfunctional, you’re hopeless, you’re a nut, you’re crazy, you’re delinquent, no good, you’re a mistake. But I’ve always said opposite to my kids.’
Kent did a rehabilitation program in jail, and for a while managed to stop using drugs. Then he met someone with a story like his and they bonded over their experiences of abuse.
‘I’ve never had no one come to me and tell me something like that. Hit a raw nerve with me.’ He disclosed that he had also been abused, and ‘we kind of had a relationship. Now the relationship was toxic and dysfunctional, because of both of us abused ... I started using drugs again with her, and I come back to jail’.
This relationship ended, and ‘this time I get out, I’m sure things will go good’. His children have told him ‘listen, too much Dad. Some time with us, you know. And I’m kind of over jail’.
He self-harmed for much of his life, but stopped a couple of years ago. He has told a few people he is close to about the abuse in recent years, including a long-term partner. Knowing about the abuse helped them understand a lot of his behaviour.
Kent has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and is on medication to manage his symptoms. He has worked hard with his psychologist in jail and has attended a lot of ‘self-help courses’.
‘I’ve just come to the conclusion that I’ve got to somehow deal with these things. It happened, I’m filthy on it, because your life could of been different, I could have been a different person. But they have happened, I’ve got to deal with it.’
He has strategies for accessing support after he is released too. ‘I know I can give myself a better life. I just know I can do better, and I know I am better.’