Randomness was the word on Alan’s mind when he visited the Royal Commission – specifically the random way he recently encountered a man he hadn’t seen for 30 years at a rescheduled meeting, one he hadn’t planned on attending.
This friend told Alan that their old scout master in Sydney, Steve Bridges, had served some serious jail time for sexual offending. The news triggered some memories for Alan. He remembered the bullying he got from boys in his year at high school, and how excluded he felt. He also recalled how different it felt from his scout troop, which was inclusive and welcoming.
Alan got involved with the scouts when he was about 12, not long after his family moved back to Sydney from southern New South Wales. The scout hall was just a couple of hundred metres from his house. Steve Bridges was the overseer of the junior and senior scouts but was solely involved with the senior troops.
Alan remembers first being sexually abused by Bridges when he was about 13 years old. After a scout jamboree in Sydney some of the boys travelled to Adelaide with Bridges. Alan remembers that every night in the tent they’d be abused by him. The abuse was never one-to-one. It was always ‘in a group scenario’ where Bridges would get the boys to fondle each other. But he is convinced that abuse was taking place before then as well.
It also happened at Bridges’s weekend cottage on the New South Wales Coast. Bridges would travel there every second weekend and take two or three boys with him so that they could go swimming and fishing and prawning. Alan went there once or twice a year for about three or four years. The same group abuse happened every night.
Alan had no sense of it being wrong. It was all confusing for him. And Bridges was affectionate.
‘There was nothing vicious or violent’ and Bridges never warned them not to tell anyone. Alan had no idea of ‘the relationship between an adult and a child, what the boundaries are or should be, or any of that sort of thing’.
Bridges kept abusing Alan in these groups until Alan ‘phased out’ from the scouts. It was round about the time he got his licence.
What he finds disturbing is that there were 30 or so boys in the scouts during that three to four year period. And Bridges was a scout master for 20 years, with oversight of various other scout groups in the district. Which means he could have abused 200 to 300 boys.
Alan promptly buried all memory of the abuse after it happened. He became withdrawn and reticent, which his parents didn’t comment on. He didn’t disclose to anyone at all because he had buried the memory so successfully. But the abuse took its toll on his education and on his physical and emotional relationships.
Alan attributes his resilience to his personal growth group, which is where he first disclosed and where he was educated about relationships, love and sexuality. It’s stopped him burying the abuse. He also sees a counsellor.
‘Looking back I really don’t know how I coped. I reckon I did pretty well just to get through it without going down in a screaming heap.’
Alan strongly believes that sex education for kids needs to start earlier. He himself was a complete innocent when it came to sex. ‘I was 11 years old before I even heard the word penis.’ And his family did not encourage any kind of discussion along those lines.
He came to see the Royal Commission to get his story on the record. ‘I wanted to get it out on a more official level.’