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Franco's story

‘Either I’m going to kill myself to escape from my head or they’re going to kill me.’

Franco is a transgender man who grew up in a small town during the early 1980s. Life at home was hard. His father was a violent alcoholic who was viewed as ‘charismatic’ by the outside world, and his mother was depressed.

Franco was often physically punished for questioning his father. The family moved interstate when Franco was eight years old in the hope that living conditions would improve.

The violence in Franco’s family home did not subside however, but rather increased. His mother and father constantly yelled at him, and he protected his mother when his father was violent towards her. He ran away from home several times and tried to tell the police what was happening, but no one believed him.

Franco began to act out. He started stealing his father’s alcohol and drank it at school. He started taking drugs and participated in ‘risk taking’ behaviour. At 11 he attempted to overdose on his mother’s prescription drugs, and was self-harming regularly. Unable to take any more of his parents’ abuse, Franco sought help from the school’s counsellor. He was told to give his parents ‘one more chance’.

‘They sent me home and my parents bashed the shit out of me so I jumped out the window … I lived within walking distance of the school so I ran back. They put me in a refuge that afternoon. I had to go to a [sports game] that afternoon and my parents showed up and bashed me up in front of everyone there.’

From 14 Franco was moved from foster home to foster home. He recalls feeling very unsettled because he was ‘trying to be compliant’ but was constantly moved around without warning.

One afternoon after sporting practice had finished, Franco was invited to the house of one of his team mates, Victoria, to stay for a while. Staying with Victoria and her mother Kym , was supposed to be temporary while further foster care was being arranged. After one month however, Kym became an accredited foster carer and took Franco in.

Franco suffered from violent nightmares and was often afraid to go to sleep. Kym would hold his hand to comfort him, which progressed to them sharing the same bed and then having sex. She told him not to say anything about their relationship otherwise she would ‘kill’ herself. He was happy to stay silent because Kym, three decades his senior, was ‘the only person that cared’ about him.

‘At the time, I saw it as a relationship but it had to be secret because the world didn’t understand.’

Franco relied on Kym to provide a house and so moved across town with her numerous times. She ‘directed’ Franco’s life and acted jealous when he spent time with people his own age. By the age of 16 he had dropped out of school. At her suggestion he finished Year 10 at a TAFE college.

For the three years he spent with Kym, it was ‘on and off’ again and ‘in and out’ of the home. Kym acted in a jealous way and treated him as a lover, not a child.

By the time he was 18, Franco decided to move to a suburb fair distance away from Kym. However, that didn’t stop the threats.

‘She’d ring me, saying that I turned her into a paedophile.’

Franco started to realise that the relationship he had with Kym was wrong. He ‘dabbled’ in drugs and started drinking heavily to ‘erase’ what happened.

At the same time he was still in contact with Kym, who re-married a wealthy man, and it became all too much. He decided to confide in a friend when he was 19 years old and was told that he had ‘romanticised’ the whole thing.

Throughout his adulthood Franco has suffered from low confidence and depression. He often had suicidal thoughts, and felt like there was a ‘monster’ in him that ‘couldn’t get out’.

When he confided in Kym about his suicidal ideation, he was told that perhaps he should end his life if he wasn’t happy. He had difficulties in holding down jobs with his alcohol abuse which also affected his intimate relationships.

‘I’d be home alone getting drunk and just punching myself in the face until my face was all smashed in.’

When he was in his early 20s Franco told his partner the details of his abuse. His partner then called a rape crisis centre and Franco was referred to a lawyer. All he wanted from Kym was an ‘acknowledgment that it was wrong’ and so he didn’t report her to the police.

When Kym denied the abuse occurred Franco brought a civil suit against her. The suit ‘dragged on’ for six years and was settled just before trial in recent years. He was told that Kym’s defence was that the relationship had ‘not happened at all, but if it did happen, there was no damage’ because he had ‘already been seriously harmed by the violence and abuse’ in his life ‘prior to foster care’.

Franco received $26,000 after legal fees were paid and he received no apology, but signed a confidentiality agreement. He found the whole legal process to be very traumatising. He never felt believed by anyone involved with the case, even his own lawyer. He was hurt that no one seemed to take his abuse seriously, like the relationship he had with Kym ‘wasn’t a serious matter’. He then reported Kym to the police, but nothing further was done as she declined to be interviewed.

Franco has now been sober for three years. He has developed a positive, professional relationship with his therapist, who he sees weekly, and has spent ‘a lot of time on self-reflection'.

‘There are people out there and they are going to do these horrible things to children, as much as we try to protect them. We’ve got to work out how we’re going to treat the people better after it’s happened.’

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