Leona's story

When Leona was about four years old, she moved with her family to a property in Queensland that was the site of an alternative spiritual community. The reason for the move was largely so they could be close to extended family members who already lived on the property.

Until she left the place in the 1980s at age 18, Leona lived amongst ‘1970s hippies’ and their children.

Gene Fletcher lived in a home close to the community and Leona thought he may have had a formal role on the board of management. He was well regarded because he’d once met the group’s spiritual leader while overseas.

Over a period of some years from her early to late teens, Leona was sexually abused by Fletcher in his house and in the car as she was being driven home from babysitting his children.

On one occasion, Fletcher was getting ready to go out and as his wife was in an adjoining room, said to Leona, ‘Let me massage you’. He then began ‘groping’ her.

Leona recalled wondering ‘Is there something wrong here?’, but wasn’t sure because Fletcher’s wife was so close by.

‘I was young enough to think that everything to do with my body was embarrassing, you know … and also it was that era that being embarrassed by sex is old-fashioned and oppressed. Not that Gene was telling me that but I’m talking about in my head, that I [shouldn’t] be freaking out about this.’

Leona continued to babysit even though she ‘didn’t have to’.

‘I liked the kids and I liked being the one who was trustworthy. That was kind of my reputation too, that I was really good with kids and as they were getting older some of them were starting to go off the rails in various ways, and I was the good one. I was the good, sensible, trustworthy one and so I enjoyed that and I enjoyed the responsibility.’

The effect of the abuse Leona said was that it ‘made me doubt myself and doubt my judgment’. She already felt that she ‘didn’t belong’ and ‘it kind of accentuated that’.

She remembered telling her mother that Fletcher had touched her but didn’t go into detail and her mother didn’t take any action. In later years Leona asked a friend if she recalled her disclosing the abuse but the friend was unsure and Leona thinks she ‘might have said something very veiled’.

Leona recounted that ‘there were lots of dramas’ during her adolescent years and she didn’t want to draw notice to what Fletcher was doing lest it ‘just look like I’m attention seeking’.

After leaving the community Leona had a successful academic and professional career.

‘It should have been taking me in the other direction but it didn’t, because I was sure, it felt like I was sure that worse things were happening to other people and then it felt drama queenish to be making a fuss about this. You know, it wasn’t really so bad for me.’

In recent years she’d heard that Fletcher had been charged with sexual offences against adult women, and was worried that he still wielded influence within the community.

‘He might not be there anymore but his presence is still there.’

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