Charles described his childhood self as a ‘sensitive, introverted little boy’. His nature made him vulnerable and he became even more so at age six when his mother died. From then on he was raised by his grandparents.
For a while, Charles experienced a stable childhood. It was the 1970s in Queensland, and like a lot of boys of that time and place, Charles participated in the local cubs group. Later, when he was 11 years old, he made the ‘natural progression’ to scouts. It was there that he encountered scoutmaster Mick Farnham.
‘He was a pretty likeable sort of a fellow’, Charles told the Commissioner. ‘He was pretty friendly. He knew how to relate to boys.’ Farnham began to take Charles aside and give him special attention, awarding him various scout badges, ‘without me having to do anything. That was one way he tried to groom me’.
Charles isn’t sure when the first incident of sexual abuse took place. He said, ‘It happened so often I’ve got no recollection of exactly how it started’. What he does remember is that the incidents took place almost every Friday night after scout meetings and also on some Saturdays and during overnight camps.
After each incident Farnham would remind Charles in a ‘threatening voice’ not to tell anyone what he was doing. The abuse continued until Charles was 15. He doesn’t know why it ended, only that Farnham ‘decided to stop’.
For the next few years Charles experienced a period of intense psychological trauma.
‘The feelings were off the scale. Shame, guilt – it was false guilt really, but all of that was very, very intense for quite a number of years. That really affected my schooling.’
Charles coped by binge drinking and fantasising about killing Farnham. He then started ‘disassociating’. ‘A part of me shut down. It was shut down for a long, long time, even from when my mother died. And so the abuse just pushed me further and deeper down inside.’
He finished school with poor marks and entered the workforce where he faced more challenges.
‘My fear of authority was so intense that when I started work I couldn’t approach a manager. I just couldn’t do it. The fear was so great that I just couldn’t. I had to be passive. To even approach a manager was just shaking in my boots sort of thing.’
During this time he never told anyone about the abuse because he still believed that it was somehow his fault. It took a while but eventually he managed to open up to a friend and to his wife at the time. Charles said she ‘minimised it and didn’t seem to take it on board’. In response he pulled back further into his shell.
Then in the late 90s something happened that prompted Charles to tackle the legacy of the abuse head on. ‘It was a fairly graphic trigger. My eldest boy was going to the cadets and I’d pick him up on a Friday night after the cadets, which is the same time it happened to me.’
The memories came flooding back and Charles sought help. He told his story to a psychologist and began a routine of regular counselling sessions that he maintains to this day. He also wrote a letter to the Scouts who then sent their branch chaplain to see him. Charles met with the chaplain twice and sent several more letters to the Scouts. He asked them specific questions, such as whether anyone else had come forward and reported Farnham. They never answered his questions and never apologised for their part in letting the abuse happen.
By this time Charles had divorced his first wife and remarried. Early in the new relationship he had told his second wife about the abuse and found her extremely supportive. The two of them approached a law firm and enquired about suing the Scouts.
Unfortunately, the fine print of the law firm’s ‘no win no fee’ policy seemed unclear and gave them some misgivings so they chose not to continue. Charles and his wife are now revisiting the issue and looking into their options.
Farnham died in the late 1970s so for a long time Charles saw no point in talking to police. Recently, however, his attitude changed and he decided to come forward and make a statement. He said that, even though the man was dead, the meeting with the police gave him a way to confront his abuser.
‘It means now that I can tell Farnham that he’s in trouble with the police, not me.’