Leo’s grandparents migrated to Australia from Europe, and settled in Victoria. In Leo’s family, domestic violence ‘seemed to be a normal thing to do … So my father was born into that … and he did the same thing to my mother. It was very severe’.
Leo told the Commissioner, ‘It’s a hard thing to live through, because when you’re a child you don’t know anything. You’re an innocent person and all you can do is hear these things … Mum used to lock us in the bedroom … so we couldn’t see anything, but you could hear it, so I still have today, in the back of my mind, I have all of that’.
The last time his father bashed his mother, the police told her that if she didn’t leave, he would end up killing her. His father had run off to hide from the police, so his mother packed their bags and took them to the train station. They stayed with his maternal grandfather for a few weeks, until they were given a housing commission flat.
‘All I remember is the police turning up … and picking up all us children and taking us away. We went from there because Mum had a breakdown. We went from there to [a children’s home].’
Leo was eight when he went to the state-run home in the late 1970s, and he stayed there with his siblings until he was 16. He said that they were well looked after, and very lucky to be placed together.
The women who ran the children’s home ‘were just lovely people and were doing the best that they possibly could. The only thing that I have to say is … when lights were out, lights were out, and there was no monitoring and there was no checking on us’.
The children at the home shared rooms, and when Leo was nine or 10, one of the boys in his room began to sexually abuse him. ‘I don’t hate or blame [him] for what he did to me, because it must have happened to him, because no child does something like this without it happening to them … You just don’t.’
The other boy was a couple of years older than Leo and he ‘put a pillow over my head … and he pushed the pillow on my head and whilst doing that he abused me sexually … When he did that to me … When that happens to you for the first time, you don’t know what it is. You just don’t even know. You have no understanding of what the hell’s going on’.
The abuse continued for about six months. Leo can’t remember exactly how many times it happened, but ‘it was an evil thing because, in the dark, you’ve got a pillow over your head and you can’t breathe properly … I wasn’t fucked … nothing was put inside me, but I was touched and rubbed’. Leo doesn’t remember telling anyone about the abuse.
The children changed rooms at times and Leo recalled that in the room he was moved to, the boys began engaging in consensual sexual activities with each other. This went on for a number of years.
‘What would happen, you’d be lying there and you’d all just jump into bed. It’s hard to talk about because it’s not the normal thing to do, but you’d jump into bed with each other … it was almost like a game. You’d all just play with each other and then you’d jump back into bed and you’d go to sleep.’
From a young age, Leo was confused about his sexuality but highly sexualised. After he left the home, he lived with his mother and his siblings for a while, but once he started work, he moved out of home.
For a while, Leo became very homophobic. He thought, ‘I am not that. I will never be that’. He got a girlfriend and for a couple of years, they had a loving relationship, until she left him and broke his heart. To this day, he would still love to have been married and had kids.
After a friend persuaded Leo to accompany him to a gay bar, he met a man and had a relationship for nearly 10 years. He has been with his current partner for over five years.
‘I think I’m in a reasonable place … in my life and I know I’m going to be okay with it but … I feel awful saying it, because I’ve got a partner … The abuse, the sexual abuse in my childhood has continued. I’ve been promiscuous my whole life … and that’s kind of an unresolved issue for me. I don’t like it, and I know where that comes from.’
Leo came to the Royal Commission because, ‘I’m talking from experience for people that haven’t had this experience. They just wouldn’t know … It’s important for you guys … or other people that are in positions of power to make change, to know what happened’.