Throughout his years at a Brisbane primary school, Lester was a confident, outgoing child, his mother Tina told the Commissioner, popular with students and with teachers. In his first year at high school, an Anglican college, he changed. ‘He [became] withdrawn’, Tina said.
The reason was not the shock of larger class sizes, as his parents believed at the time. Lester was being raped by a group of older boys at the school. There were four or five of them – Lester never really knew how many because he didn’t see them. They attacked him from behind, or from the side, and he didn’t get a proper look at who they were. As one of them kept guard, Lester was held down and the others took turns sexually assaulting him.
The frequent attacks took place in the isolated sports complex. ‘I lost count after 10’, Lester said. After the third attack the boys started using implements in their assaults – knives, pens and sticks.
And they threatened him, as Lester recalled: ‘If you tell, we’ll come after your family, or we’ll kill you, make your life hell’.
Their threats and his own naivety meant he never considered reporting the abuse. ‘Being 11 or 12 at the time you just sort of obey orders, really.’ And while the school had counsellors, there was little awareness about why you would see one. ‘It never really came across when you go to a counsellor, or even tell anyone’, Lester recalled. ‘I wasn’t embarrassed, as much as I didn’t at that point think it was a big sort of – I didn’t really want to start a big hoo-hah about it.’
The attacks didn’t continue the following year – confirmation for Lester that the boys responsible had been in Year 12 at the time, and were no longer at the school.
As a 15-year-old Lester told a friend he wanted to commit suicide. His friend reported this to the school and they contacted police, who visited Lester’s parents. Lester was put in touch with a psychiatrist, but didn’t disclose the abuse. As time went by he became more depressed and unmotivated.
After finishing school he enrolled at university. But his mental health was not good. He refused to ‘meet and mingle’, and found himself in a spiral of hating everything. Anxiety got the better of him, he said. He experienced a lot of anger.
‘At that point I thought yeah, I’d better tell someone about it.’ He told his parents about the abuse first of all, and a few weeks later told his psychiatrist.
For Tina, the disclosure was almost a relief. ‘We just looked at ourselves and thought thank goodness it wasn’t us. It’s terrible to say – thank goodness it wasn’t us. But we thought it was something that we had done.’ Knowing the truth meant they could start to do something about it, she said.
Lester was 21 when he revealed his abuse to his parents, and it was just a year or so later that he met with the Royal Commission. He and Tina, who came with him as his support person, agreed that they’d had some difficult times.
‘I sort of have a death wish’, Lester explained. He’d been through a period of serious self-harming and other self-destructive behaviours. On several occasions he’d tried to provoke police into shooting him. ‘He has asked me for permission to kill himself’, said Tina.
Lester has been diagnosed with OCD, borderline personality disorder, and several other mental health issues. But he had recently begun seeing his psychiatrist more frequently, and antidepressants and other medication are helping.
He has reported his abuse to Bravehearts, and to police – though has not yet felt strong enough to give them a detailed statement. ‘To be honest I’ve sort of been putting that off’, he said.
Lester has also reported the abuse to the school principal and been referred to the Anglican diocese. He and Tina both felt the principal’s response has been inadequate. ‘He didn’t give a shit … The only thing I got from him was like oh my god, this could destroy our money-making business’, Lester said.
He lives with his parents now, and is grateful for their support. He wanted the Commission to understand the impact of abuse on others in a family, such as his parents.
‘I think it actually affects them more, because they’re in charge at that point of your life … They’d invested eight, 10 grand a year … to try and get me this education, and this comes out. Mum sees the effects of the self-harm, and the suicide [attempts], so I think that it does affect families sometimes more than the individual.’
Tina wanted to draw attention to the way abuse has not just a psychological and physical toll but also a financial one.
‘The financial burden is huge. It has been huge for us for nine years’, she said. ‘We’ve had legal costs. We’ve had medical costs.’ She was made redundant after taking phone calls from and about Lester at work, and meeting other demands. Although she could have worked for another 10 years, she now supports Lester at home and doubts she will work again. Lester has received a sum from the school for medical expenses but otherwise there is no avenue for compensation, she said.
‘We may face the possibility of having to support him, if he can’t support himself fully, for the rest of his life. So that is another huge impact. The initial one of course is to get him the treatment that he needs.’
She believes the school needs to take responsibility for what occurred.
‘I searched around for a good school for my children. You have to send your children to school. They’re responsible for them in that time that you can’t be there. They failed in their duty to look after him. …
‘They need to be accountable for what happens and that’s the only way that it can change. If they’re not made accountable it can just keep happening.’