On a weekend camp at the age of 14, Asha was told by scout leader, Nathan Henman, to leave the other boys in his troop and return to the campsite. Once there, Henman got Asha into his tent and stripped him, then took his own clothes off and lay on top of Asha while masturbating.
Later, around the campfire, Henman was ‘spooning’ another boy, Joshua. Henman had questioned Asha about Joshua, asking whether he’d seen him naked and suggesting the three of them meet alone in Henman’s tent. Asha ignored the suggestion, but worried that what had happened to him might also be true for Joshua.
Over a period of months, Henman continued to single out Asha. On one occasion he tried to drag him out of a tent in the middle of the night. On another he isolated Asha in a room, undid both their pants and rubbed his body against Asha’s while holding an arm across his throat. ‘That happened twice’, Asha said.
‘The second time I had enough strength to drag myself away from it. I remember him locking the door, trying to talk me back, to convince me not to leave the room but I forced my way out. He made it very clear that no one would believe me, that I wanted this, that it would be good for me.’
Asha said he’d known from a young age that he was gay. He believes Henman knew it, too. ‘I think he knew how to pick people and he knew who to work on. For me it was confusing because I got aroused, but as an adult I understand that there’s ways that can obviously be done. I’d never had sexual experience before. In my mind at the time what he had to say was very convincing in that I had sought this and I had wanted this. And it was grooming. But in the end I left scouts, after that third experience.’
Embarrassed and ashamed, Asha kept the abuse secret. ‘I wasn’t going to own up to being molested, because two reasons: the humiliation – I would have been the guilty party; and secondly, my father would have reacted very poorly and he would have gone after the guy, okay. And he would have attempted to kill him and then the damage was too great. So I never said anything. There was nobody to tell. Who was going to listen? In my mind I would have been told that I was telling lies.’
Soon after the abuse Asha developed anorexia and, in his mid-teens, attempted suicide. He became hypervigilant with his siblings through his teenage years and was attracted as a young adult to psychologically destructive relationships.
In his early 20s, Asha was walking through a park when he saw Henman. The two made eye contact. ‘I saw this as an opportunity to hurt him’, Asha said. ‘I went with him. We went back to where I lived. I had no idea what I was doing. He went to touch me and it dawned on me that what I intended was not legal. I stepped away. I told him he better go fast. I asked him if he recognised me and he looked at me, and he said, “Whoever you are you can’t prove anything”. I think he knew that I was somebody – obviously, and then I told him to leave.’
Shortly afterward, Asha made a statement to Queensland Police, who gave him a sympathetic hearing but said a conviction wasn’t likely given it was eight years since the abuse. They told Asha his report would be useful though if other complainants came forward.
Around the same time, Asha disclosed the abuse to his parents. ‘My father lost the plot and went looking for him. He did what I always thought he was going to do.’ It was lucky, Asha said, he didn’t find Henman.
In years following, Asha discovered many people within the scouts had expressed concern about Henman, but no action had been taken to remove or report him. He also learnt that Henman was now living in Asia, a fact that seemed at odds to him being on a watch list with Queensland Police.
Asha told the Commissioner that in his working life he’d come across another person who offended against children. He became suspicious of his colleague, Ben Hirst, who was a sports instructor who professed to be teetotaller, but kept a large cache of liquor in his locker.
Sitting at Hirst’s desk one day, Asha found a folder that contained scores of images of semi-naked children drinking alcohol. The photos had been taken on camps organised by Hirst for disadvantaged kids in the area. Asha showed the photos to a senior staff member who notified the police.
A raid was conducted on Hirst’s home and he was taken in for questioning. Asha was admonished by other staff members for being an ‘upstart’ and changed jobs soon afterwards. He heard later that Hirst had been suspended briefly then returned to his previous position.
Asha said that he didn’t talk about his experience of abuse with many people. However, where he could, he tried to increase awareness that it could occur.
‘Being open about it was hard … There has to be a culture where people are open about this. It’s not about “poor me”, it’s never about that. It’s about children being comfortable and speaking up and nobody judging them. And if older people don’t speak up, like if I don’t speak up, then how can I expect kids to speak up?’