Len grew up in remote, rural Victoria in the 1950s. It was a conservative and tightknit community. A culture where you would ‘never dob people in … It was a strong mateship thing in the country. You stick together’.
Len attended a one-teacher primary school. When he was seven years old his teacher, Fergus Hargreaves, then in his 20s, started sexually abusing Len. Mr Hargreaves would ensure all the other children had left and would then lock the gates of the school. Having trapped Len inside the school grounds, he would take him into the storeroom. The abuse included masturbation and oral sex. It occurred on three occasions before Len turned eight years old.
The abuse stopped when Len started making excuses for why he couldn’t stay back and help Mr Hargreaves at school. After that, ‘he never approached me again'. Looking back at how he handled the situation as a child, Len sees it as a source of pride. ‘I regarded it [the abuse] as wrong. You know, back then we didn’t have … stranger danger lessons, but I knew it was wrong.’
However, Len didn’t disclose the abuse to anyone. ‘I think I built a brick wall around that experience and that sort of allowed me to get on with life.’
At school Len failed Years 9, 10 and 11. He recalls being ‘withdrawn as a teenager’. He had high anxiety and couldn’t develop relationships throughout his life. His siblings, in contrast, went to university, developed careers and got married. ‘I went through life thinking that that was the way that I was born’, Len told the Commissioner. ‘And it wasn’t until the Royal Commission and hearings in Ballarat … and the stories people were giving - I related to that. And I thought “Oh my god … Maybe … how I turned out in my teenage years and so on, might be related to the sexual abuse”.’
In his late 20s, Len did go to university and achieved high distinctions. He went on to have a career. However, he has never had a job he was highly passionate about – choosing security and stability over risk taking.
Len never turned to drugs or alcohol. He keeps very fit. ‘I’ve devoted myself to sport.’
Some years ago, Len disclosed the abuse to his mother after she told him she had heard Mr Hargreaves had suicided. Len was interested to find out if his abuser had, indeed, died and whether or not there had been any criminal charges against him. Recently, he contacted the SANO taskforce who confirmed Hargreaves’s death but would not disclose whether or not he had a criminal record.
In the 2010s, Len wrote to the Department of Education to advise them of his abuse and to ask if the department had been aware of Hargreaves and how had the department responded if so. Instead of being treated with respect, Len received an officious response telling him that they could not disclose any information for privacy reasons.
Len wrote back saying that ‘I understand that you give precedence to … protecting the privacy of an employee that abused me as a seven-year-old … That’s your job, to protect a paedophile’. Len decided not to pursue the matter further and feels the Department of Education failed him. ‘It’s the thing that distresses me the most.’
Len is not interested in pursuing a civil claim because he knows it is a difficult and long process and doesn’t want to put himself through it. ‘It’s not a dignified thing for someone, who has been abused, to have to fight all the way to get compensation.’
Amongst a number of recommendations, Len suggested that an external person be appointed to visit one-teacher schools. This person would run a child safety program and be a point of contact for children. For Len, the Royal Commission was ‘one of the most important things that have happened in my life’.