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Leon Peter's story

Leon was diagnosed with ADHD as a very young child. Born in the mid 1990s and growing up with his solo mum and siblings in Melbourne, he came to the attention of the Department of Human Services (DHS) very early. His mother had taken him to hospital to get some injuries treated, and the hospital had reported her to DHS for possible physical abuse. But she hadn’t been hurting Leon. He’d been hurting himself – sitting in his cot and bashing his head against the bars.

‘I used to headbutt the cot’, Leon told the Commissioner.

As he got older, his behaviour became more difficult to control. He’d be ‘breaking windows, trying to chase people down the street’. The police were at the family’s home often, because Leon was ‘playing up’. By the time he was seven, he’d been to court and was regularly seeing a psychiatrist.

Leon believes much of his wild, angry behaviour was the result of the experiences he had with a foster family, when he was four or five. He was sent there with his older siblings to give his mother a break. The foster parents were physically and sexually abusive.

‘Let’s say they were … definitely paedophiles. And they were abusing the crap out of the kids. Like soap down your throat, washing powder down your throat, you can’t have bathtubs without them coming in, and basically they torture you.’

The abuse began just a few days after he arrived, Leon said. Both foster parents were involved. It’s ‘what they done to me in the bathtub’ that convinces him they were paedophiles: they ‘touched me in a certain way – basically doing things to me’.

Leon and his siblings stayed with the family for a month or so. By the time he got home, he’d changed. He was more aggressive. ‘I got worse’, he said. ‘Every counsellor, every DHS worker I went near, every copper I went near I just started kicking, biting, punching, spitting on them’. He got into trouble with his teachers and moved schools seven times. When he was 10 he refused to go back. For the remainder of his education he was home-schooled by his mother.

Leon didn’t disclose the abuse to anyone at the time. The memories remained buried until he began getting flashbacks, when he was 16. The first time this happened the experience was so intense Leon nearly walked in front of a train. He was eventually put in touch with a mental health service, and through this was able to access support that he has found very helpful.

At the time he didn’t want to report the abuse to police. ‘I just want my flashbacks to get dealt with first.’ Later, he thought that the statute of limitations meant he couldn’t report it. After seeing the Commissioner, he was considering his options again.

Leon was a heavy user of ice for about a year, but doesn’t use it any more. He’s still a pot smoker. ‘It’s what makes me happy’, he said. ‘When I’m at home, and having a bong. Marijuana. It helps me eat and sleep.’ He still gets violently angry. Just a few days before coming to the Commission he’d punched a hole in a wall at his home. However, he’s managing his anger better than he used to, and finds that marijuana helps with this too. ‘Since I’ve been smoking the pot, it’s calmed me down a lot.’

Working also helps. Leon has had his present job for a year. His boss knows about his mental health issues and is very supportive. There are days when Leon doesn’t feel able to go to work. ‘He’s like, “All right, take a day off”. As long as I let him know, he doesn’t care.’

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