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Mikel's story

‘I was sent to my father 16 times and not once I came [out] clean. I was bashed, I was abused. Every single time [it would end with] police or I was in hospital. Every single time. That’s when someone should have taken proper control in the 80s. And gone “Woah, he needs a family, he’s under five, put him in a family”. Not put him with kids who were 10 years older than me.’

Mikel was born into an extremely violent household in Melbourne. When he was an infant his mother took him back to her family overseas. He didn’t return to Australia until he was almost school age, and hadn’t yet learned to speak English.

While Mikel was overseas his parents separated, and upon his return he was placed in his father’s care along with his older siblings.

His father physically and sexually abused the children. Mikel, being the youngest, suffered severe brutalisation. His lack of English further complicated his relationship with his father.

‘It was regular. To him it was normal … He used to hit me with a piece of wood on my head, just sitting there when I was on floor and he was on the couch. Because when I was reading a book, if I got a word wrong, he’ll go “What was that? Come on, sound it out”. And he’ll keep going till I get it right. And sometimes I couldn’t and I’ll end up covered in blood.’

Mikel’s siblings were ‘kind and bigger’ and tried to teach him to read but it wasn’t until he was attending the local primary school that a teacher intervened and made time to teach him. The teacher was also integral in bringing his home life to the attention of the authorities.

‘She is the one who reported all the bruises all over me from the studded belt, and she realised I had a broken … knee and my wrist was twisted completely … and then my jaw six, seven weeks later, my nose, both eyes …’

The pattern became that he would be abused and beaten by his father, taken to hospital, taken into the care of child services and then, three or four weeks later, he would be released back to his father. It is clear that child services wanted Mikel to maintain a relationship with his father, despite the severity and regularity of abuse.

When Mikel was in the care of child services he was often placed in short-term residential units with a group of other children. He was sexually and physically abused in a number of these homes, although now it was older children and, in two instances staff, who were his abusers.

‘I was put with kids what were 10 years older than me. I was forced to do things that you could never imagine.’

In one hostel a male staff member was allowed to take a couple of the children, including Mikel, away on camping trips. Mikel was sexually abused by this man and ‘I seen him abuse two [other] kids as well’.

At this time, Mikel’s father was only allowed supervised visits with Mikel but was still able to sexually abuse his son.

‘I remember one when we went fishing and the [child services] worker was with us ... She found me in the bathroom with my pants down and my father was saying that “I was taking him to the toilet” but there was no toilets there.’

On another occasion, Mikel’s father abused him on a visit to the unit Mikel was then staying in.

‘He sexually abused me by a finger in my butt … the staff grabbed me and … kicked him out of the unit.’

When Mikel was 11 years old he was finally fostered out with a family.

‘No money in the world would compare to it. That’s how perfect it was. I went to school. I went to church. First time I went to school properly.’

Mikel stayed with the family for almost 18 months but they moved interstate and he was brought back to his father’s custody.

Mikel began running away and misbehaving and by the time he was 14 years old he had left his family completely and was being moved around a range of residential care units. A caseworker who took a special interest in him ‘bought my first birthday card’.

By the time he was 16 years old, he was so despondent that he attempted suicide. He had stopped attending school completely and felt there was no point to his life.

‘I had no structure around me. No nothing. I turned to drugs as a cover blanket, I don’t know if it was a mask – I don’t know what it was.’

He also turned to crime to support his drug habit and was quickly jailed. He has spent almost 15 years in and out of prison but he remembers the protection and support that jail initially gave him.

‘I got a roof, a bed, food. I got education, I got programs. I learnt to read and write.’

The ongoing abuse across Mikel’s childhood and teenage years was so extensive and complete that he suffers debilitating anxiety and insecurity and has daily struggles with anger and feelings of hopelessness. He also has significant trouble piecing together his early life and as he ages, finds it harder to maintain any sort of equilibrium. But he does have a long-term partner and a young son.

‘I wake up every day … and I ask “Why do I want to live?” … But I think it’s good to be with my son. Because I don’t want my son … to have the father that I did.’

He is determined to seek compensation for the way he was managed by child services.

‘I’ve not given up, you know. I’m trying to do everything I possibly can [but] it doesn’t go away … it’s a life sentence.’

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