Alexa's story

‘I don’t mind talking about it because I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that it’s not my fault, it’s his fault. That’s a long journey in itself, reaching that point.’

Alexa was sexually abused by her Grade 2 teacher in a government school in suburban Melbourne in the mid-1970s.

‘There was absolute trust with teachers and because I grew up in a single parent environment so I only had my mother, he was like a father figure to me … I felt very special to him.’

Alexa’s mother, who came to support her in her private session, said she felt that the teacher, Morgan Lewas, groomed her as well as her daughter.

‘I thought he was great. I thought he was taking really good interest in her. You can imagine how it makes me feel.’

The abuse included Lewas locking Alexa and her friend Natalie inside the classroom at lunchtime, sitting them on his lap and giving them ‘a ride’, which Alexa now understands was sexual. If somebody knocked at the door, Lewas told the girls to be quiet and wait until they went away.

Lewas also took Alexa and other girls in the class into a storeroom off the back of the music room, one by one. Alexa has blacked out a lot of her experiences so she can’t recall details of what happened in that room, but she said ‘I just remember I’d have to wait for him and I don’t remember it being about music’.

On another occasion, Alexa and Natalie were punished by Lewas for playing on wet equipment in the playground. He stood them in front of the whole class, got them to lift their dresses, and he pulled down their pants and smacked them.

Alexa never told her mother about what Lewas was doing. But that year she got into trouble three times for wetting her pants, something she had not done before or after.

‘When you’re that age, you assume everybody knows everything … So it wasn’t deception, it just didn’t occur to me to tell things. And … I probably didn’t think it was a traumatic experience at the time because of the way I’d been groomed. So there wasn’t something to come home and tell, either.’

Alexa left the school at the end of Grade 2 due to family circumstances but years later she met a girl who told her that all the girls from her class talked about Lewas’s behaviour the following year. She said if the abuse was common knowledge among the kids, then some of the teachers must have known. And Lewas had frequently changed schools.

‘The school knew … Definitely the school knew. Anybody that works in 17 schools in 42 years, surely that’s a flag in itself. He’s moved from school to school to school. So that to me says something very clear.’

When she was eight, Alexa started self-harming, which increased in severity throughout her teens and well into adulthood. However, she managed to finish Year 12, go to uni and start a career.

She had disclosed – for the first time – to a psychologist when she was 18, and he dismissed her concerns. She went on to develop chronic anxiety and panic disorder. She self-medicated with alcohol and became addicted to heroin. When she was in her late 20s, Alexa suffered a total breakdown. She continued to see mental health professionals but had a lot of bad experiences, particularly around not being believed because of her repressed memories.

In the 1990s she checked into a rehab clinic. ‘That’s where I had a psychotherapist, he’s the man who changed my life because he’s the first person who believed me and he told my family that it was true as well … His parting words to me were “This is the beginning”. And he was right. I never touched drugs ever again.’

In the early 2000s, Alexa was contacted by police who informed her that other girls from her class had made allegations against Lewas. She was asked to make a statement, but was unhappy with how the police dealt with it, feeling the statement didn’t accurately reflect her experience. Once they realised her evidence would not be useful for a conviction, the police lost interest and failed to keep her updated on the progress of the case.

‘I felt like I was part of a group but I was excluded from the group because I didn’t have one little component … So I couldn’t get a conviction but I wasn’t actually allowed to participate in it either, and that frustrated the hell out of me because it makes you feel unworthy …

‘The moment [the police officer] found out I couldn’t be another one in her case, I was being wiped and basically in the end she said, “Everything you’re recounting is the same as the other girls so yes, it is highly likely it happened to you”. And that’s the most validation I’ve ever received. And I had to really push hard for that …

‘I’ve fought for 40 years to be believed. I’ve had people deny my truth for a very long time … it’s not my fault that I don’t remember, I know it happened, every cell in my body tells me it happened.’

Other cases were brought against Lewas, and in the end he was convicted of charges in relation to 11 girls, although he only served four months in prison.

Alexa continues to deal with alcohol issues, and is unable to cope with full-time work. But she has good support from her family and husband, continues to see a therapist and now uses mindfulness techniques to help with her anxiety.

‘You know how they talk about fight or flight? Through this I’ve learned that I’m a fighter … The system needs to change its focus … it’s making those victims survivors so they can be meaningful members of society.’

Alexa’s mother said coming to the Royal Commission was a big day, and she hoped it would be the beginning of Alexa’s new life. But Alexa said while she felt validated by coming forward, that wasn’t the end of it for her.

‘Today’s not a door closing. It doesn’t work like that. I’d like it to be, but it won’t work like that. But it definitely does help … at least I didn’t get teary today, that’s good!’

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