A childhood lost to abuse

For almost 40 years, Troy Treneman has tried to forget the horrific events that robbed him of a childhood.

All he has to remind him of a time of innocence is a primary school photo published on the front page of Melbourne newspapers in early 1976, showing him with a beaming grin, blond bowl haircut and neatly pressed shirt under the headline "Vanished".

By the time Victorian police raised the alarm about the missing eight-year-old, Mr Treneman says he was already "damaged" - the victim of brazen child sex abuse at the hands of a female teacher who lured him away on the pretence of a "holiday treat" on a farm.

Only now - more than 20 years after he came to start a new life in WA and put the trauma behind him - is he trying to face his demons.

Memories have been stirred up in part by the royal commission into child abuse, and sexual abuse allegations against entertainer Rolf Harris and Hey Dad! star Robert Hughes.

The 47-year-old has patchy recall of the events in 1976, but is tormented by vivid memories of unspeakable acts forced on him when he was a naive Catholic schoolboy who served as an altar boy and shared a newspaper delivery round with his brother to earn a few dollars.

The second youngest of five children raised by his widowed mother Irene, Troy attended a small Catholic primary school near his home in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill, when a female teacher befriended him at the end of 1975. She promised him a summer holiday on a farm near Buxton, about 100km north-east of Melbourne, and Troy's mother agreed to let him go.

Mr Treneman says the teacher and several men neglected and abused him, at one stage stowing him on a ship in Sydney.

He was made to perform sexual acts he did not understand on the woman and she hurt his genitals, which were permanently damaged.

Sometimes he was locked in cupboards or rooms for days at a time, with nothing to eat but dog food, and now believes he was being prepared for a child prostitution ring.

"I once tried to escape with another kid but we were caught and flogged and locked in a cupboard," Mr Treneman said. "We moved from house to house and whenever I asked about going home they just said my mum was happy for me to stay there."

His mother believed he was still on the farm and being looked after, but when Troy was not brought home by the agreed time, she called in the police, who had already become suspicious about people on the Buxton property.

By that time the group had disappeared, and Melbourne's CIB made a public appeal to find the missing boy, saying he had vanished with a woman, her husband and a second man nicknamed "The Professor".

Until last week, Mr Treneman had no memory of how long he was kept, and was unclear about how he was found. His mother's recollection was also hazy.

_The Weekend West _was able to confirm that Troy was found by police on February 4, 1976 - five weeks after he was taken away - when the woman dumped him in a flat in St Kilda.

The last known newspaper report said police were questioning a woman and Mr Treneman and his mother remember police telling them the woman was being extradited to New Zealand.

Mr Treneman said the incident was then largely swept under the carpet. Police and church officials encouraged them to put the incident behind them, and soon after his mother packed up the family and moved to a farm near Wangaratta in country Victoria, where she still lives.

"Mum knew what happened but we never really talked about it much and I've always thought she might have felt guilty even though it's not her fault and I don't blame her," he said.

"This woman said she would take me for holiday, to give Mum a break and Mum trusted her.

"Later, everyone just told me after to forget about what happened that I was just a kid and would get over it."

He struggled at school and went off the rails in a troubled adolescence that eventually led him to WA, where he worked in Kalgoorlie and got married.

He has not been able to get even modest compensation to pay for professional counselling because it happened so long ago.

It has affected his ability to hold down a job because he finds it hard to trust anyone. Now the father of a teenage son and daughter, he also struggles to tolerate any physical contact, even with his 42-year-old wife Marcia, who is battling breast cancer.

So far, he has not been able to get financial help from Victoria's Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal because of the length of time since the incident and limited evidence. Lawyers have been reluctant to take on the case.

He is seeking old police records to help fill in the gaps but the Freedom of Information division of Victoria Police told _The Weekend West _ that, given the time frame, "it is highly likely" that all documents have been destroyed under the Public Records Office Victoria guidelines. Also, under the 1986 FoI Act, agencies are only required to search for documents that came into existence five years before the Act.

Mr Treneman says at times he feels overwhelmed by the effect on his family.

"It's not their fault what happened, but it's really messed with me and I'm trying to deal with it as best I can," he says.

"I still don't like to be touched after all these years, so I can't hug Marcia, which is tough on her at the moment with her breast cancer. She's been on chemo and it really takes it out of her. She shouldn't have to deal with this, too."

The family live in Waikiki but they have to leave their rental house in a few weeks and find a new home. Mr Treneman is struggling to get a job as a truck driver after being out of work for four months.

"If I tell people what happened to me as a kid, that I was kidnapped, no one can believe it. I still can't believe it. My family is what keeps me going."

President of the support group Adults Surviving Child Abuse Cathy Kezelman said it was not uncommon for those abused as children to be suffering the effects many years later.

"We know recovery is possible with the right support but there are not enough services and there are issues around affordability and access," Dr Kezelman said.

"With the royal commission into child abuse it's an issue at front and centre at the moment, but sadly for a long time this is an issue that has been ignored."

If you or someone you know needs support, call Adults Surviving Child Abuse on 1300 657 380

If I tell people what happened to me as a kid, that I was kidnapped, no one can believe it."

The West Australian

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