‘I did suppress a lot. If I’d had the help 30 years ago that I’ve had in the last short period, things might have been a lot different. I spent 30 years not knowing what was wrong even. I thought I had everything under control but apparently not.’
Lev grew up in rural South Australia in the 1960s, the eldest child in a devout Anglican family.
‘I attended Sunday school and through this process became an altar boy. This is when I think the abuse began. The best way to describe it is I think it was sexual touching when we were robing or disrobing …
‘I remember dressing yourself in the cloakroom of the church, dressing yourself but then the priest behind you touching you, adjusting your clothing …
‘I remember on one occasion an altar boy saying “I can do that” to avoid being touched.’
Lev was about seven years old when Father Ryan arrived in the parish. His mother was friends with Lev’s grandmother and it didn’t take long for Ryan to become a family friend. Lev spent a lot of time at his grandparents’ house because both his parents were working, and he believes Ryan took opportunities to abuse him there too.
Lev said around that time his schoolwork dropped off, he rebelled a lot and often ran away.
‘Prior to Ryan’s abuse of me I was a happy, carefree child. I had a great sense of adventure. I enjoyed being with friends and spending time outside. As this abuse happened, I believe that all changed. I remember Mum said “What is wrong with you?” And I used to get that quite a lot.’
Lev believes the abuse continued until he was about 13, when Ryan got moved to a different parish.
Ryan was convicted a number of times of sexual abuse of children and it was the publicity surrounding one of these convictions that brought the adult Lev to a crisis point, where he started to remember what had happened to him.
‘It was on the news and the television was on and I went to water … I curled up in a ball in the foetal position and crawled under the bed … I admitted myself to hospital wanting some help and needed big time help.’
Lev then began the journey towards understanding the mental health issues he had been experiencing. He said he’d always had a problem with relationships, with his ex-wife previously suggesting there was something wrong with him. Over the years he suffered with alcohol abuse, anxiety, sleeplessness and anger management problems. After his breakdown he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is now on anti-depressants.
He still has great difficulty trusting people but has received tremendous support from social workers and psychologists and now has strategies in place to manage issues that arise.
‘I can sit and talk about it now whereas before I couldn’t talk to anybody. I’d push people away. It’s a coping strategy but it doesn’t help.’
Lev has children from his first marriage who he is very proud of. He has been able to tell them about the abuse and they are a great support to him. He also recently told his mother who was shocked, but he was able to reassure her she had done nothing wrong.
He is also in the early stages of a new relationship. ‘I’ve put that on hold, I just had too much going on. She’s been very supportive. We’ve got a good understanding that I’ve got to get through this first. It’s a big leap to even do this.’
Lev has not been to the police or the Church about Ryan, but he is in contact with lawyers who are helping him explore his options. His main focus now is looking to the future, and helping others in his position.
‘Because I’ve been through something like I have been, understanding what people can go through and not know about the assistance that’s available, I’d like to put my hand up for training, to be a mentor to somebody else that wants to sit down and have a chat … Blokes don’t talk enough. I was guilty and I know what it’s like to have someone that’s understanding and knows it’s hard to cry. There’s nothing wrong with it.’
He said, for him, finding the appropriate support was crucial and he now feels proud of himself for coming forward.
‘The most important message is to tell people that there is available help out there and for survivors that it is needed. They need to know it is available for them.’