Bertrand joined the scouts in Sydney when he was seven. He thought it was great - the boys learned knots, did exercises, and went camping and sailing.
John Barwell, who was about five years older than Bertrand and a bit of a leader for the younger boys, had a key to their scout hall. Bertrand’s family were never close, and with his mother working on weekends and his father off at the club, Bertrand took up Barwell’s invitation to spend time with him there. He was nine years old by then.
It was in the scout hall, when no one else was around, that Barwell started to touch Bertrand sexually. The touching soon escalated to Barwell trying to penetrate him. The abuse happened a dozen times or so over the course of two years. Barwell would give Bertrand money as a reward for letting Barwell touch him. Bertrand was left feeling confused; John Barwell was pleasant enough and for an affection-starved boy like him, getting some attention was nice.
He didn’t tell anyone in his family what was happening. Bertrand’s turbulent home life, with a violent and alcoholic father, would not have helped. When his parents divorced, Bertrand moved away with his mother. When they returned to Sydney soon afterwards, John Barwell, who went to Bertrand’s high school, approached him again. But this time Bertrand resisted.
As an adult, Bertrand hates any sort of conflict, which he says might be a result of his father’s violence. But he believes the migraines he suffers may relate to his sexual abuse.
Bertrand has carried a lot of guilt and shame about what Barwell did to him, as well as confusion about his masculinity. His personal relationships have broken down repeatedly, which has spurred him on to ask ‘What’s the answer? What’s the truth to all this?’
As a result, he’s spent a lot of his life on self-development, exploring different spiritual pathways such as meditation and yoga in an attempt to ‘break through’ and find out who he is and what it means to be a man.
Bertrand never reported the sexual abuse to police, but he did tell a friend about five years ago. He believes John Barwell went on to become a scout leader, but when he contacted the Scouts they claimed that was not true.
One reason he told his story to the Commission was in case it might help other people who’ve been abused by Barwell.
At times Bertrand has wanted ‘to get this guy and really nail him’ but he believes that, in the end, ‘force and control – it doesn’t help people to change’. He doesn’t think harsh punishment is good for society.
‘In the long run I think we’ve got to learn to have more mercy.’
Bertrand recommended that at least two responsible adults should be present with children when they’re participating in groups such as the scouts.
He also believes that society in general needs to make cultural changes in the ways it deals with sexuality.