‘I didn’t realise till I went through therapy that what was physically happening to me was sexual abuse’, Lenore told the Commissioner. ‘You just accepted it as affection.’
Lenore was recalling her experience at an Anglican home in regional Queensland in the late 1950s. Between the ages of seven and 11 she had several lengthy stays there, as did her siblings. Lenore seldom saw her sisters, however, and saw her brother even less. He lived in boys’ housing, away from the girls’, and they met only at holidays such as Easter or Christmas.
The girls at the home slept in dormitories organised by age. There was a nursery for the youngest children, where Lenore slept on her first stay at the home. Later she slept in a dormitory for the younger girls, meant to be supervised by a Sister or house mother sleeping in a small anteroom.
Lenore recalled being routinely abused in the dormitory at night, by older girls from the other dormitory. She also recalled the violence.
‘It was the physical abuse that got me, from other kids and so forth, and from the house mothers. There wasn’t a gentle hand on you. It was just a whack.’
From around the age of six, Lenore spent weekends and school holidays with a foster family, the Culbecks. One of the reasons the Culbecks were chosen as Lenore’s weekend family was that they promised she would be taken to church on Sundays.
Mr Culbeck sexually molested Lenore over several years. ‘He’d expose himself to me quite regularly, and he’d come close, very close’, Lenore remembered.
She reported what was going on to two of the Sisters at the home, but they didn’t believe her. The abuse continued until Lenore’s family moved to Victoria.
In her mid-30s Lenore began experiencing panic attacks. At first she didn’t know what was happening. She would be out with friends and suddenly find herself ‘shaking like a leaf’. She visited a doctor who asked if she had ever been abused. It was a lightbulb moment for her. ‘That’s when I put two and two together’, she said.
Lenore’s GP referred her to a women’s health service, and she began seeing a counsellor there. ‘She was fantastic’, Lenore said. ‘The first few sessions – I dropped a whole pile of stuff.’
Lenore said that, as she gets older, she is more aware of the abuse and its impact. ‘I just understand it a lot better. I understand what’s happening.’ She and her four siblings have all received compensation from the Queensland Government’s Redress Scheme, which Lenore read about in the newspaper. Her compensation, $29,000 in total, was substantially reduced by solicitor’s fees. Even so, it was more than her siblings received, which concerns her.
‘How can people who have been through so much, how can they not be given the full $40,000?’
Lenore had no expectations of her visit to the Royal Commission. She only wanted to be given the opportunity to tell her story in person.
‘Over the phone’s one thing, on paper’s another’, she said. ‘But actually physically saying something to someone in authority – that’s important.’