In the mid-2000s, Leanna enrolled her daughters, both toddlers, at a local day care centre in their regional New South Wales town.
Her first experiences of the centre were positive and she liked the staff. However, after about three months her daughters starting making ‘funny’ comments.
In talking about one of the carer’s husbands, the girls had mentioned ‘willy’ and ‘bum bum’. Leanna ‘got the gist’ of what they were saying and was horrified when they said he had been ‘poking’ them with his ‘willy’ during ‘bath time’.
Reporting it immediately to the day care supervisor, Leanna was appalled that nothing further was done. She took the matter to Department of Community Services (DOCS) and then to the police, but was ‘brushed off’. Leanna said that she was regarded as an ‘unreliable complainant’ and was told her children were too young to be witnesses.
‘The fact that the police and DOCS didn’t believe me, made my family then not believe me. We lost all support from family, from police, from everyone.’
Leanna removed the girls from the centre and the family relocated to another town. Separation from family and friends affected Leanna’s mental health. She described often feeling ‘stressed out’ and said she has been in and out of counselling for years.
‘The kids have been traumatised, it’s been really difficult parenting. They’re hyper-vigilant, they freak out over the smallest things.’
At the time of Leanna’s report to police, her children wouldn’t let anyone near them. She said they ‘freaked out’ as soon as a doctor attempted to touch them and as a result, the forensic component of the investigation couldn’t be completed. Leanna believes that had that not been the case, there would have been sufficient evidence to conclude that the sexual abuse had occurred.
Leanna is disappointed that her daughters’ case has not been taken seriously. She’d been encouraged to approach Victims of Crime, but in the previous few years had lost the relevant paperwork and couldn’t afford to hire a solicitor.
As a mother, Leanna found it ‘really hard to hear’ her daughters talk of the abuse. She felt that she needed to be ‘strong’, and had been advised by an advocacy group to let the girls talk about the abuse ‘as if it was a breakup’. This, she thought, had been effective, and through their primary and high school years, the girls had done well.
Leanna recommended that day care centres have stricter protocols about the supervision and appraisal of staff. She had concerns about the independence of those checking the facility that her daughters had gone to.
Coming to the Royal Commission had been like a weight off her shoulders, Leanna said, and she hoped her story would provide insight into why children, and adults, should be believed.