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Lester Tom's story

Lester was three years old and living on the streets in a Victorian town in the early 1960s. He and his brother had been kicked out of the family home because his father ‘didn’t want’ them anymore. It is unclear where Lester’s mother was at the time. The brothers went to the local police station and were placed in a toddlers’ home, where they stayed until Lester was six years old.

When he was six, Lester was separated from his brother and the two didn’t see each other for a number of years. As he had an intellectual disability, Lester was moved to a home and school for children with a disability, where he stayed until he was 15, while his brother was sent into foster care.

The institution had a violent environment and the workers were cruel and often inflicted harsh punishments. Lester recalls being whipped numerous times, even when he hadn’t done anything wrong. He also remembered Mrs Goodman, a female worker, pulling the children by their ears. He said the cane was used several times a day both at school and at the dormitory and he was scared of the workers for the entire time he lived at the home.

He was sexually abused by male workers and older boys at the home for the nine years he lived there. He said it always happened at night, while he was sleeping, and he can’t recall the names of his offenders. He tried to tell a few staff members about the abuse but they didn’t believe him. They said ‘we’ve got to catch them first’. Lester didn’t know who he could trust so he kept quiet.

He observed female and male staff having sex with each other in the home’s office at night and he also saw male staff members entering the girls’ dormitory at night, making him believe some of the girls were being sexually abused. When he was eight, he saw a male worker molesting a 10-year-old girl in the swimming pool. The worker told Lester to get in the pool too, but he refused and was sent to his room as punishment.

At the age of 15, Lester was moved to a boys’ home in regional Victoria. Here, he didn’t go to school like he did at the disability home. He remembers working in the garden and doing ‘odd jobs’ at the home. He had his own room at the institution, but was still subjected to a lot of sexual abuse from the older male residents during the night. He tried to tell staff members but they didn’t believe him.

After leaving the home, Lester married and was with his wife for over 20 years. They didn’t have any children. His wife also had a disability and he said the relationship was ‘hard’. He started to get bad dreams, but felt he couldn’t tell his wife about them, saying he ‘had to keep it secret’. The marriage ended when he was in his 40s.

Lester was able to reconnect with his sister and his mother when he was in his 30s. He discovered that his mother tried to find him and visit him the entire time he was in institutional care and it upset him that the workers didn’t tell him. He now lives with his sister, who is a great support.

For most of his adult life, Lester kept the details of the abuse to himself as he felt no one would believe him. He hasn’t reported it to the police or taken any legal action. For many years he has suffered from bad memories and nightmares about the sexual abuse he endured at both institutions. In the early 2010s he told his sister and his disability advocate and he is now looking forward to accessing counselling to help him with his past.

‘I feel a lot better now that I’ve told, but it’s still going to be with me all the time.’

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