Much of Leslie’s childhood was spent trying to defend his mother and brother from the assaults of his father, a violent drinker who’d pick fights in the pub and then return home to ‘smash the house up’.
Leslie had learning difficulties, and there was little support for him so he often didn’t turn up for school. At the age of 12, he was picked up for truancy by the police. Sent before a magistrate, he was ordered to go to a Salesian Brothers boys’ home.
When Leslie arrived at the home in the late 1970s, his brother, Jim, had already been there for a year. He spent 18 months in the home, and for four of these was sexually abused by the home’s director, Father Coles.
‘During the first weeks, Jim and I were allowed to go home on weekends’, Leslie said. ‘On about the third weekend after we came back, Father Coles said that he wanted to see me in the office. He took me through the office into a room he had at the back which had a television. I sat on the lounge and there were lollies, drinks, and chocolates. He locked the door and then came in later behind me and sat down beside me on the lounge.’
Coles sat beside him on the lounge and asked him how he was going. ‘He then told me to take my pants down. I told him to leave me alone but then he threatened me and said that if I did not do what was going to happen, he would make sure Jim and I did not go home on the weekends. He also threatened that Jim would be sent to another boys’ home.’
The priest started to fondle his genitals and masturbate himself. ‘He then inserted his penis into my anus and raped me. I remember I was crying and screaming with the pain. This lasted about two minutes. Father Coles told me to stay there until I stopped crying.’
After the assault, Coles strapped Leslie on the hand ‘for being bad’.
This pattern of abuse continued, with Coles sexually assaulting Leslie, strapping him on the hand, and then locking him in a room for half an hour until he stopped screaming and crying.
The abuse stopped when Leslie and Jim no longer had to be signed out by Coles to go home on weekends. Leslie didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until 2010, when Jim disclosed that while he’d been in the home he’d been sexually abused by Coles as well as one of the Brothers.
The news was devastating for Leslie, who then told Jim of his own abuse. ‘See what it is, before I went to [the boys’ home], I was always protecting my brother’, Leslie said.
‘People used to pick on him and they couldn’t get past me to get to him. And my mum from my father who was an alcoholic drunk. So I never got an off-switch to, you know, be calm or be safe. Always protecting him. Myself, my brother and my mum. And then I lost all that when I got Father Coles. I was put in a place that I couldn’t – if I said anything or done anything you know, Jim’d be sent away or I’ll be sent to another home or be there longer … All these years I’m thinking, well you know, I saved him. And like I said I was 12 years old and I didn’t realise till he said that to me that he was a year before I was, so he was being sexually assaulted for that whole year.’
Jim also told their mother about the abuse, but Leslie chose not to disclose his experiences. ‘Now what’s happened, since 2010, Mum took it all on board that it was her fault because she took everything on board and everything that went wrong, she’d blamed herself. I told her, you know, I said, “No, Mum”.’
Leslie said one of the effects of the abuse was that he’d never been able to trust anyone. ‘The only person I’ve ever trusted is my mum. That’s it. I wouldn’t trust anyone. Take me years to trust someone.’
He didn’t report the abuse to police, and two years ago he found out Coles had died in the early 1980s.
In recent times, Leslie had been in discussion with a lawyer about seeking compensation. He’d made a previous attempt to engage a law firm but hadn’t been happy with them and discontinued contact.
Leslie has also started seeing a counsellor to help manage his anger and frustration. ‘He’s slowly helping me’, he said. ‘He said it’s going to take time cause of everything that’s happened in my mind.’
Leslie told the Commissioner that he felt deeply the loss of his mother, who died not long ago.
‘Now it’s just day by day. Well it has been ever since I left the home; it’s been a day by day. I’ve been on drugs and alcohol, when I was younger. I still am affected by drugs and alcohol now. I’ve tried to stop but it’s not easy especially now that me mum – she’s the one person.’