Charlie knew he was gay from a young age. When he was growing up in the 1970s in regional Australia he had little support from his family or school. His father was physically and sexually abusive and terrorised him throughout his childhood. At school, he was bullied.
‘I was in lots of fights … Kids knew I was gay … and I just tried to keep a low profile but I was … picked on constantly.’
When Charlie was 10 years old he joined the local scouts group. He enjoyed the outdoors and it offered time away from both home and school.
‘I had great respect for a lot of those people and that organisation. And, it was, for me growing up, that was my safe haven to go to scouts.’
When he was about 14 years old he was asked to join the Venturers. On one scout camp an older man took an interest in Charlie, telling him he had some gay friends. They talked about sexuality late into the night and then the man sexually abused Charlie. The abuse occurred the next night too.
‘I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to connect with people around my own age growing up, certainly not in terms of my sexuality … so I guess I was quite vulnerable to this form of situation occurring …
‘I would hope that in this day and age there would be less opportunity for that kind of thing to happen … He shouldn’t have even been at that scout camp. He wasn’t in our troop … he was an invitee to that scout troop by my scout leaders.’
Charlie felt he had no one he could talk to about the incident because it would reveal his sexuality. By the time he began working at 17, though, he was beginning to come out to his family and the abuse was ‘just something that happened when I was a kid and I wanted to leave it behind and just move on’.
In the mid-1980s, ‘HIV/Aids had just happened at that time and that was … quite scary … [but] I was just sort of starting to feel confident … that being gay was okay’. Unexpectedly, police arrived at Charlie’s workplace demanding he make a statement about the man’s abuse.
‘That was quite traumatic, because I thought, if I don’t make this statement they’re going to bash the shit out of me because that was the reputation of the cops in those days. And I thought, well, I’m a poofter, it’s illegal – homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised … And even though I was technically the victim, they didn’t give a fuck in terms of how they treated me.
‘And they obviously spread it to my managers … it went around the workplace. I was threatened on a daily basis. People would hold things to my throat and say, “It would be so easy to kill you” … I felt quite suicidal at times. I also felt very angry.’
The police had outed Charlie to his colleagues. Charlie had to leave his job, a role that he had enjoyed and wanted as a career. His family relationships and his safety in the town were also compromised.
‘I just lay low for a while and really struggled with my identity and everything and wanted to run screaming back into the closet but I couldn’t … I’d get chased around town.’
Charlie moved to the city soon after and found a supportive community of friends and became active in the gay rights movement. He heard nothing else from the police about his statement. Later, he found out the man had not been charged and had in fact joined the police force.
More than 10 years later, police arrived at Charlie’s home to again interview him about the sexual abuse, ‘I thought, “Here we go again”’. Charlie was told the man was facing child sexual abuse charges and they needed another statement from Charlie to support their case.
‘I felt I had an ethical responsibility to participate. But on some levels, part of me was kind of going “I wish you’d fuck off”.’
Charlie made the statement but never heard from the police again.
‘It wasn’t such a big issue for me personally but it was an issue for me in terms of other people were suffering because of this and that it was wrong. I expected to be subpoenaed to court and I was fully going to pursue it. But nothing. I didn’t hear anything … I thought … it shouldn’t be like this. There’s been another cover up of some description, obviously.’
Charlie realised that the man would know he had made a second statement against him. Charlie’s paranoia and anxiety increased to the point where he changed his identity. After this, Charlie thought, ‘I’ve done all I can do, I have to move on and I did’. He doesn’t know what happened to the man and worries that there has probably been no justice for the victims in regards of this man.
Charlie wants Scouts to make sure ‘they have policies that are protective and inclusive of LGBTI orientated young people and that their leaders get proper training …
‘I would hope that people struggling with their sexual orientation would have support as well, because it’s pretty horrible growing up in the country and really struggling … I would love to see us as a society treat everyone equally and that includes us, we contribute.’