‘When bad things happen to me – personally, work, professionally, whatever – that event has always come back to me. I can still smell him.’
The event in question was the last of three incidents of ‘escalating gravity’ that happened to Cam in the early 1980s while he was part of a Melbourne-based scout group. He was 10 years old at the time and, like most boys that age, naive about sex. So when scoutmaster Hugo Tanner asked him and the other boys to practise their corroboree in their underwear, Cam thought it was a bit weird but hardly a big deal.
Nothing more happened during that incident and afterwards Cam didn’t think much more about it. A few weeks later he went away on camp with Hugo and the rest of the group. What happened next has been particularly unnerving for Cam because, uncharacteristically for him, he’s never been able to remember it.
‘I remember going to sleep in one tent but waking up in another, and being next to him … Which is something that really, really spooks me.’
The third incident was the worst. ‘It’s the one that’s really sort of affected me to this day.’ Again Cam was away with the scouts on camp. Most of the group, including Hugo, were sleeping on bunks in a shared dorm. Cam woke just before dawn while all the other boys were still asleep. Hugo saw him and motioned him to come over and lie down beside him, which Cam did.
‘Then he sort of started to kiss me. “Okay, it’s getting a bit weird”. But you don’t think anything of it. As a child you don’t think anything of it. You know it’s not normal but it’s just – I don’t know how to describe it … And then he started sort of touching me and I knew that wasn’t right. I knew that wasn’t right. And then luckily someone else woke up.’
Hugo pushed Cam aside and that was the end of the incident. Cam was left feeling baffled. He spent the next few months trying to make sense of what had happened. Then one day, a year or so later, he told his mum.
‘She just looked at me. I remember it to this day. And I said what had happened to me and I said I wanted her to do something about it …I remember her saying, “I’m not sure what I can do” but she said she’d do her best.’
As far as Cam knows, his mum never reported the abuse to anyone. Since then he’s experienced many problems as a result of what Hugo did, such as intrusive thoughts and distrust of people in authority, but the real hurt, he said, came not from the abuse itself but from his mother’s reaction.
‘I’m pretty sure I could deal with the event if I didn’t know that my mother did nothing.’
It bothered him so much that he rang her up a few years ago and confronted her about it. ‘I had to get it out of me because it was just driving me insane.’ His mother’s reaction was to deny that he’d ever told her about the abuse. Cam was sceptical, feeling she ‘just denied a little too strongly’.
He’s been working through these and other issues with his psychologist for some time now. As part of his healing process he’s also reported the abuse to Scouts and to police. The response from Scouts, he said, was intimidating in a way that was subtle yet clear. They offered him counselling and nothing else.
The police response was been ‘very good but very slow’. Based on what they’ve told him so far, however, Cam has little hope that Hugo will be brought to trial. ‘They said, “We’re still looking into it but unless we can get some form of corroboration from someone else saying something similar, there’s nothing we can do”.’
Cam has made his peace with that.
‘I’m over that hump again and I’m really hoping today is the end of it, that by you guys kindly giving up your time that that’s it. Whatever happens to the guy now is in the hands of the police, there’s very little I can do about it.’