Brad joined the navy in the 1970s when he was 15 years old. He did it ‘to escape a paedophile’ – a friend of the family who had molested him on four occasions. Brad thought the navy would provide a safe place. ‘Which is why it was even more of a shock that I was getting groomed on the first day.’
Brad was befriended by Michael Kirk, a man in his 20s who had also just joined the navy. Kirk took Brad out on the town and bought him alcohol. He organised for Brad to billet at his parents’ place on some weekends.
On several of these weekend visits, Kirk got Brad so drunk that Brad could barely stand up. He then sexually abused Brad, one time by performing oral sex on him and another time by performing oral sex and forcing Brad to reciprocate.
Looking back on this time, Brad now believes that navy culture attracted paedophiles like Kirk, enabled them to prey on boys and discouraged those boys from reporting what they experienced.
He cited these specific factors: Boys were forced to mingle with older men; the men, who were paid much more than the boys, often gave the boys loans and bought them alcohol and cigarettes, which made the boys feel beholden to them; there was very little monitoring of where the boys were billeted on weekends; homosexuality was illegal at the time and boys were terrified that if anyone knew they were involved in male to male sexual acts (even unwillingly) they would be arrested.
Also, Brad said, macho culture encouraged a ‘just get on with it and don’t complain’ attitude. If a recruit had a problem he was told to write it down in the mythical ‘stiff shit book’.
For all these reasons, Brad never spoke about the abuse to anyone at the navy. On his home visits he kept quiet too. His parents were so proud of him that he couldn’t bear to tell them what was really going on. Brad felt responsible for the abuse. He began to wonder if he’d done something to attract it.
He still wonders that today. The ‘rational side’ of him knows that he was just a child and it wasn’t his fault, ‘but the little boy is still dealing with it all’.
Brad left the navy in his early adulthood and embarked on a career that saw him working alongside children for the next 40-odd years. It’s a job that’s given him a clear perspective on the crimes that were committed against him as a child.
‘The more trust and love and stuff that’s put back on me, the angrier I get with these guys.’
One night Brad visited the grave of the first man who had abused him, and spent two hours screaming at it.
‘I think the last thing I said to the paedophile, at his grave at midnight … was, as I walked away I then came back to the grave and said, “And I’ve been working with kids for 37 years and never felt the need to screw up their lives like you did, you” blah-blah-blah.
‘And it was very, very cathartic. It was very, very good. And I suddenly realised, as I drove away, “How many people do that on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis, going to graves all over the country?”’
In the last few years, Brad has begun talking openly about the abuse. He’s contacted police and they are currently investigating Michael Kirk. It was a tough decision to come forward, but Brad was galvanised by support from friends and by something his doctor said.
‘He said, “It actually needs people like you that can verbalise what happened to come out and do something about it, instead of just covering your scars up at home”.’