Clarke’s parents knew Mr Symonds, the leader of a scout troop in north-west Sydney, very well because Clarke’s mother was heavily involved in the scouting movement. Clarke thought Symonds was ‘cool’ because he would often give him treats and special privileges, such as taking him out in his car to get fast food.
At a scout camp during the early 1990s, Symonds, who was only in his early 20s but was often left alone in charge of the group, exposed Clarke and other boys to pornographic magazines. He would smoke marijuana and drink wine with the scouts on these camps, telling them it was a secret.
When Clarke was in his mid-teens he attended another camp with his troop. Symonds offered the boys port – Clarke had never had this before and became intoxicated. He went into his tent, and Symonds followed him and started fondling his penis. Clarke got an erection, and Symonds then took him into the toilet block.
The leader made Clarke perform oral sex, causing him to gag, then anally raped him. During this assault Symonds continually screamed at Clarke, telling him he deserved it and wanted it to happen. After Symonds ejaculated he unsuccessfully tried to get Clarke to penetrate him.
Clarke was in pain and shocked about what had just happened; Symonds ordered him not to tell anyone. During the camp Symonds made jokes about condoms, which angered Clarke as he had not used a condom during the rape. Clarke worried that he might have contracted HIV and would die, and remembers having a bad headache (which may have been caused by the alcohol).
He did not tell anyone about the rape, suspecting that people would think he was somehow to blame, and feeling that if he had not been drunk it would not have happened. At home he burned all the photos of the camp in the backyard.
‘It was like I did a ceremony to say, “Okay, I’m putting this away, I can’t deal with it at the moment, and I’m going to cover it up in stuff somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind”. And then I just got on with it.’
A few weeks after the rape Symonds visited Clarke’s family. When they were alone he said, ‘You’re not going say anything about what happened, are you?’ Clarke just ‘pleaded dumb because there was alcohol involved’ and said he did not remember anything. This interaction made him feel violated in his own home.
The sexual abuse caused Clarke problems with physical intimacy, and confusion about his sexuality (thinking he was perhaps gay for it to have happened). He wondered if somehow he was to blame. ‘Why did he choose me? Did I ask for it? Could I have stopped it had I acted differently? All those sorts of questions that you go through.’
Clarke disclosed the rape to a friend while still in his teens. When he was having marital problem he told his ex-wife – ‘who I think had been through abuse as well’ – about the incident but she was dismissive of his experiences, saying that lots of people undergo similar abuse. (His current partner is supportive and accompanied him when he met the Commissioner.)
While attending a mediation session with his ex-wife, Clarke noticed a card for a support group for male survivors of sexual abuse. He made contact and began attending the group, and found hearing other’s stories helped him understand his own.
‘Listening to the stories of the other men in the group, and finding those similarities ... I realised I wasn’t crazy, and that there was a whole bunch of things that have affected me, that changed who I was.’
His involvement with this group was the start of his healing process, and Clarke was able to disclose the rape to his family. ‘That’s another level of counselling and support that is needed, because families have to go through it as well.’ Even though they did not know what happened for many years, he credits having grown up with a loving family as part of ‘the reason I’m still sane today’.
Clarke is now open with many people about being a survivor of child sexual abuse. ‘The one thing that they always say is that how matter small it is, it’s still abuse. There’s no good abuse or bad abuse, there’s no grey there. It either is or it isn’t ...
'I would encourage anybody that’s had issues or had abuse to look into those sort of groups. Because yes, there are all different levels of support networks, but there’s something specifically about having that group and that format that was quite good.’
His first attempt at making a police report was unsatisfactory, but when he spoke to a senior officer from a specialist unit, her response was encouraging and supportive. This officer ‘spent time with me, and went through and said, “Well, these are the sorts of things that I need to hear about your story”.
'So I could sit there and I could do my timeline up, and sort of work out the things. And as I did that, more things started to fall into place about him doing things that would then groom me.'
The police investigation is still underway, and Clarke is glad to have started ‘down the path to have him stand for what he’s done, I think it’s a real cathartic process’. Once the criminal matter is finalised, Clarke intends to take civil action seeking compensation.
As part of his healing, Clarke has been back to the shower block where the rape occurred. He walked in and closed the door, looked at the place that had haunted his nightmares for so long, and rejected Symonds and his actions.
‘I’m like, "Well, fuck you, I’m identifying this, this is what happened. You’re just a very, very weak man and you don’t own me anymore."’