WHAT DOESNT KILL ME: Clarence MP Steve Cansdell says he used the abuse he suffered as a child to become stronger. Yohanna Dent
WHAT DOESNT KILL ME: Clarence MP Steve Cansdell says he used the abuse he suffered as a child to become stronger. Yohanna Dent

Clarence MP speaks of sex abuse as a child

CANDOUR is not something you usually associate with politicians. Add the word brave and the connection becomes even less tenable. But those two words aptly described State Member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell, when he sat down to talk about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Not that he thought it was anything special. On the contrary, he wore his tough childhood not so much with pride, but acceptance. Sent to an orphanage at the age of 11 by a father distraught by the sudden death of his wife, the young Steve was raped by two older boys six months after arriving. "I just woke up one night and there were some guys doing things that I didn't know anything about. I questioned it and I was just pushed over and raped by a couple of them," he said. "To me, I didn't think it was anything sexual because I was very immature that way and it was just like being bashed up. I've never had any scars from it; it was just a hard experience along with other hard experiences." Resilient and determined, Mr Cansdell took the experience of his rape and used it as a source of strength rather than a reason for weakness. The Masonic Boys School at Baulkham Hills in Sydney was his first time living away from home, but he quickly learnt to survive in the harsh environment. Although his loving family life had been replaced by strict rules and daily canings, Mr Cansdell said his earlier childhood had given him the grounding needed to withstand the challenges of his new life. But it wasn't easy. "I think that experience (of rape) taught me that you've just got to keep fighting," he said. "I remember the first Sunday I must have spoken at church or something because I was dragged out the front and given the cane and I wet myself. I think it was just the shock of everything and the fact that there was no support, I suppose. I have a real empathy for people who have been abused and ... for people who are doing it tough." The young Steve stayed at Baulkham Hills for two-and-a-half years and then talked his father into letting him return to Dubbo. That lasted for nine months before he was sent to an orphanage near Orange called Fairbridge Farm. Fairbridge Farm was just as harsh as Baulkham Hills. His time there was made worse by a farmhand that verbally and physically assaulted him, even making the other boys hold him down while he put molasses and chaff on his private parts. After nine months at Fairbridge Farm, at the age of 15, Mr Cansdell ran away and has never looked back. Despite his revelations of abuse to the media being recent, he said he had never been ashamed of his abuse or tried to keep it hidden; it was just something that had never come up. "I've never had any problem talking about it. In fact, if I have young people or even adults talking to me about it then I'll tell them that I was abused and, if anything, it gave me a lot of strength. Mr Cansdell first spoke publicly about the rape two weeks ago. Afterwards, he was overwhelmed by the number of people contacting him to share their stories of abuse and thank him for discussing it so openly. "That's the sort of feedback that I'm getting and I suppose, if anything, by telling the papers it's broken down that hard shell that a lot of people perceive me to have because of my boxing and because I have been a tough guy over the years. It just shows that you are human," he said.

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