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Lee Symon's story

‘Just before this happened at school, my mum and dad had split up so that’s how I was targeted. The headmaster at the primary school said, “Lee needs a male figure in his life” … Mum … was about to go through a divorce … and she was a bit upset and she let me go to his house on weekends. He said it was for extra tuition for school.’

The grooming of both Lee and his mother occurred in the early 1980s, when Lee was 11 years old and in Grade 5 at a Tasmanian state school. The headmaster had never shown any interest in him prior to this point.

The sexual abuse occurred often in a number of different places, primarily on overnight trips. The headmaster would make Lee participate in a strip game and would tongue kiss him. The abuse continued for about a year.

‘I put up with it for a while, then I sort of realised something wasn’t right … Mum said one time, “Oh, are you ready to go?” … and I said, “No. I’m not going, he’s a poofter”. That’s all I told me mum, I didn’t tell her what happened. And I didn’t tell me dad ... anything at all.’

The abuse completely changed Lee’s life. ‘I was a good student at school and then after this happened I didn’t care about school any more. So, I didn’t get a very good education. I finished it in Grade 10.’

In his last year he vandalised the school a number of times. ‘My dad was very angry about it and I couldn’t tell him why I broke into the school … this ruined my relationship with my father. I couldn’t tell him. I was embarrassed.’

Lee was 12 at the time.

In his mid-20s he discovered that the headmaster had changed his name and was tutoring children in town. ‘I wanted to stop him … and that’s when I started talking about it with people.’

Around the same time, Lee was asked by the unemployment office why he was unable to stay in a job.

‘I told the person at Centrelink about what happened when I was a kid and I said, “Look, this is causing me trouble. I’m having troubles with depression and things like that”. And that’s when they got me to speak to a counsellor and she actually helped me charge the headmaster.’

The counsellor organised an interview with police and Lee gave a statement. In due course six more people came forward with the same sort of stories. Lee believes ‘they were worse … I think he’d gone further with the other kids’.

The headmaster was charged and the court case began but halfway through the man died. Lee and the others still received victims of crime compensation though, because of the similarity and number of their stories.

‘After this court case … I bought a house and got married because I felt a bit more [settled].’

His marriage has now ended but it lasted for many years and produced a child he’s very proud of.

The impacts of the abuse have been significant. Lee has suffered with depression for many years, had periods of self-harming and frequent thoughts about suicide.

‘I used to cut my wrists. That was the first thing I think that happened after the headmaster. I used to cut my wrists to see how much I could cut them, and I sort of wanted to die but I couldn’t cut my wrists enough.’

He has used marijuana for years and been charged with drink driving many times. The last time he was sentenced to jail.

Lee suffered extensive injuries in an alcohol-related accident and lives with constant pain and restricted abilities. He is now on a disability pension. ‘I think that’s taken a lot of stress away. Getting the disability pension has helped me a lot.’

Having that regular income means Lee can help his mother financially and feel as though he is repaying her for her continual support over the years.

‘Things are the best they’ve been for a long time. I’ve had two good times through my life and that was when me and my son used to go riding trail bikes – that was the best time I’ve ever had – and then at the moment because of my pension and I’ve been able to help Mum a little bit that makes me feel good too … If I could repay the help she’s given me …’

Lee is interested in pursuing the Tasmanian Department of Education for compensation. He still becomes depressed when he thinks about the lost opportunities in his life.

‘The problem with it is, I don’t know what I would have been like if it never happened. Like, I could have done heaps better … but I’ll never know.’

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