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Gabe and Anette

Content Warning: These stories are about violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation and may include references to suicide or self-harming behaviours. They may contain graphic descriptions and strong language and may be distressing. Some narratives may be about First Nations people who have passed away. If you need support, please see Contact & support.

Gabe, early 50s, has Down syndrome.

For many years, he lived in a group home managed by the state government.

About 10 years ago staff told Gabe’s sister, Anette, they were arriving at the home to find him with no clothes on or with ripped pants, and deep scratches on his back.

Staff believed he was doing it to himself.

Then one night a staff member heard Gabe crying in distress and saw another resident running out of his room. It turned out the resident had been sexually abusing Gabe and another resident in the house for a long period of time.

The home refused to remove the perpetrator from the house.

Anette made a complaint to the department but the manager lied that there had been no further incidents of abuse.

Anette continued to make complaints and discovered the home was aware the perpetrator had a history of sexual violence. The department eventually moved the perpetrator to another unit.

Police were unwilling to investigate because Gabe and the other resident are non-verbal. They told the families there were no legal avenues available, which Anette has since learnt was incorrect.

Anette told the Royal Commission some staff started to treat Gabe and the family badly after this incident.

‘Sometimes they were really rude, the staff, it was like a bullying mentality.’

One time, Gabe had dental surgery and needed a modified diet. A support worker refused to feed him soft food and follow the post-op care instructions. When Anette arrived to visit, the support worker was roughly pulling a jumper over Gabe’s head, hurting him.

Gabe’s mouth failed to heal properly and he was in pain, so Anette took him back to hospital. Doctors x-rayed his mouth and discovered he had a fractured mandible resulting from a ‘deliberate blow to the jaw’. The support worker eventually left the home.

Another time, Gabe slipped on the kitchen floor. The staff member on duty didn’t tell anyone, gave him a shower and put him to bed. The next day the staff on the morning shift couldn’t get him out of bed and eventually called an ambulance. Gabe had multiple fractures of his pelvis.

A few years ago, Gabe had unexplained cold and flu symptoms for several months.

Anette told staff there was a musty smell in his room, but they failed to investigate. Anette found fungi growing from the wall behind a chest of drawers and soiled carpet. The bathroom next door had been leaking and mould had grown in the wall and floor.

Anette had to make several complaints to get the home to act.

The manager then sent Anette a threatening email advising they were implementing ‘family engagement guidelines’.

‘These weren’t guidelines, they were restrictions. It felt like a dictatorship.’

The home wouldn’t allow Gabe to go out with Anette and other family members. The family could only visit briefly and had to stay in Gabe’s room. This wasn’t feasible because he likes to wander and struggles remaining in one place.

‘There was just such a lack of respect, not only for [Gabe] but for his co-residents. Because I interacted with a lot of these people because they didn’t have family.’

Staff refused to provide verbal updates on Gabe and told Anette she would have to wait for the weekly email.

‘I believe it was a punitive response to attempts to advocate for [Gabe].’

Anette and her husband removed Gabe from the home. Anette provided no notice because she was fearful the provider would try to prevent Gabe moving.

Gabe is temporarily living in an aged care facility while Anette modifies her house.

‘Generally, things are okay. They’re so far better than what they were in the group home.’

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Disclaimer: This is the story of a person who shared their personal experience with the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability through a submission or private session. The names in this story are pseudonyms. The person who shared this experience was not a witness and their account is not evidence. They did not take an oath or affirmation before providing the story. Nothing in this story constitutes a finding of the Royal Commission. Any views expressed are those of the person who shared their experience, not of the Royal Commission.