Chet's story

Chet grew up on Sydney’s north shore with parents who instilled in him a strong social conscience. In the late 1970s, when he around 12 years old, he joined a local Anglican boys' group.

He first encountered Gabriel James, the head of the group, on one of their camps. Chet was sore from carrying his rucksack, and James offered to go to his tent and massage him. There were other leaders present when he said this, but they did not comment or intervene. ‘I’m utterly convinced when I think about the circumstances of what happened to me, that James was not acting alone – at best, acquiescence from others, and at worst there was actually some level of collusion.’

James went into Chet’s tent, zipped it shut, and began massaging him. He then started talking about masturbation and trying to touch his genitals. Chet believes that James used hypnosis-style techniques and suggestions on him. This, he said, ‘aroused me. And then he used that state of arousal to take that step, to give me pleasure, as he would say. Or in my context, abuse me.

‘And it was at that moment I said, “No”, and he backed off. And then he tried again. I had an erection and when you have an erection you’re aroused. And that’s the moment that you’re most vulnerable, in just letting it go all the way'.

‘There was something clearly wrong about that situation. I said no again and he backed off. And he said, “Now, that’s just between us”.’

Chet went on one more excursion with the group, which entailed a train trip. While they were travelling, James offered the boys alcohol. After these incidents, Chet decided not to go back to the group. His parents didn’t query why he was leaving, and he decided that the matter was over and done with.

Some years later however, Chet began to reflect upon his experiences. He wondered about how much worse the abuse could have been and how his life may have been changed if it had gone differently. He also wondered if James was still connected to the church, and made some investigations. Finding out James still worked there, and had continuing access to children, he decided to report what had happened to police.

The first officer he spoke to did not appear interested in his story, telling him it had happened too long ago to be worth taking action. Chet insisted on reporting and made a formal statement. Sometime later another officer contacted him and they discussed the case in detail.

This officer told him that she had spoken to the minister of the church. He had admitted being aware of historical allegations against James, but did not believe there was a current risk. Chet’s report was the first the police had ever received about James and the officer advised Chet that they would need some corroborating evidence to have a chance of a successful prosecution.

Chet decided to contact Greg, the boy who had first introduced him to the group. He greatly suspected Greg had been abused too, as he remembered him being James’s ‘favourite’.

His suspicion was correct and Greg told him of the severe, frequent sexual abuse James had subjected him to, including group acts with other boys. Greg agreed to make a police statement too, and another victim also came forward. James was finally charged and convicted, and received a custodial sentence.

Chet doesn’t think his matter was included in the final trial but this is not important to him, and he is not interested in compensation. His main objective was to have James lose his access to children and be held to account, and to get some justice for Greg.

He is also aware of child sexual abuse within the organisation’s branches in other areas, and would like to see a full investigation of this and any cover-up by the Church. He believes there was a sophisticated paedophile ring in operation, teaching leaders how to groom and sexually abuse boys.

Most of all, Chet wishes he had disclosed his experiences with James at the time, and not left it for over a decade before making the abuse public. By this stage James had been active with the Church’s youth activities for 30 years, with access to hundreds of young people during that time. Although young himself at the time, the implications of not reporting sooner left him with ‘an overwhelming sense of guilt around, God, have I really failed all of those boys?'

‘I have to be honest, that’s probably the thing I feel most upset about, is that I protected myself at that point, but I didn’t take that extra step and prevent that. And I just can’t imagine how many boys that he abused in those extra 12 years’.

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