Clarrie's story

To a little boy whose mother was not coping well after her World War II veteran husband had deserted the family, scouts provided some welcome personal attention for Clarrie.

He was ‘very attracted’ to it when the scoutmaster ‘did what good groomers do – took me under his wing and showed me a lot of care’.

Attention from ‘the big boss’ in an institution run with a paramilitary ethos ‘makes you feel good’, he explained. Soon after joining his New South Wales scout group, 12-year-old Clarrie was abused by his scout master, Neville Abbott. It continued over the next three years.

The abuse took place at his local scout hall, various camps and in his and Abbot’s homes.

‘The very first incident was quite violent … penetrative, all sorts of stuff’ – an ‘almost indelible’ experience ‘that might have been a trophy moment for Abbott’, Clarrie believes.

After that first occasion, Clarrie felt he was increasingly treated with disdain. The ongoing sexual abuse was ‘cold and robotic. It’s tough and you feel trapped and all of a sudden you feel complicit, you’re part of it … and you think, “how can you complain?”’ He suffered ‘this enormous shame and guilt’.

Because he and Abbot ‘had our secrets’, Clarrie explained, ‘there was that threat that if anything went pear-shaped my secrets would be revealed. I am now a partner in all these offences, so to speak’.

Clarrie’s immediate response to the abuse was a protection ‘to withdraw – big time’.

‘Part of my life was [already] secrecy’, as his mother hid from debt collectors.

‘I became a very isolated, secretive person. I just hid it.’

While ‘no Rhodes scholar’, Clarrie had done well in Year 6 and had lots of friends. But by high school the following year he had ‘crashed academically’ and was ‘forever fighting’ and indulging in ‘serial truancy, smoking’.

‘I don’t want to be cruel to Mum but the reality is there were huge signs screaming out and Mum didn’t really do much to pull it up.’ No one questioned why he spent most lunchtimes on detention.

Time passed and Clarrie, later a troop leader nearing 14, realised ‘how compliant I’d become’ – basically ‘a sex toy’.

After an episode in his own home Clarrie had an ‘angry awakening’, realising he was ‘bigger’ now than initially, ‘and I’m not going to take this anymore’.

‘It took a long time to get to that point’, Clarrie said, crying at the memory. But when he did quit scouts he walked home afterwards and remembers his ‘guttural yell’ that signalled ‘I’m free!’

Like most abused children, Clarrie always worried he would not be believed ‘based on one person’s word against another’. When his mother asked him in the 1990s if he had been abused, he ‘didn’t quite answer’.

‘I was so ashamed about it I just shut it down.’

Instead of relying on illicit drugs – Clarrie’s ‘self-medication’ was ‘legal drugs’ – he became an ‘overachiever’ at work. He involved himself in a charity organisation that a psychologist identified as Clarrie ‘probably trying to rescue’ himself through altruism.

‘I know damn well when I’m having alcohol it’s to anaesthetise myself on those bad days.’

Clarrie first disclosed to a long-term girlfriend and then later to his now wife.

Years later, when a police operation was being publicised, Clarrie made an anonymous notification.

Finally, earlier this year, he made a formal report of his sexual abuse to the police. He warned two mates who had been in scouts at the same time that the police might want to talk to them for his case.

Both of them, one still a close friend, then admitted Abbott had abused them too. Since then, a total of seven former scouts have complained of abuse by Abbott, Clarrie said. He fears that number is conservative.

During his working life, he coped ‘reasonably well’ due to all of life’s ‘distractions’ by pushing the abuse ‘under the radar’.

Now retired, Clarrie said he had always tried to help others during his career and acted as a ‘protector’ which he attributed to an understanding of the impact and consequences of child sexual abuse. Altruism was one of his coping mechanisms. And his family had been a great support.

Clarrie had had post-retirement repetitive nightmares and flashbacks to the abuse in a ‘major crash’.

Although he tried to ‘tough it out’ he became depressed and anxious and sought treatment from a clinical psychologist, which helped him identify some issues.

He now realises that his reluctance to change his grandchildren’s nappies is ‘a hang up. This is linked to this stuff’.

‘It’s always been there. It’s never gone away', he said.

Even today, there are constant ‘triggers’ which make his stomach lurch – a brand name that reminds him of Abbot, frequent media reports about the Royal Commission, scouts cutting down Christmas trees. ‘My healing is going to be a journey … and I’m conscious of it.’

Clarrie had a few ‘wobbly days’ recently, particularly when he found some childhood photographs which included Abbott. He had a ‘meltdown’ that lasted ‘quite a few days. Bottom line is I still have my moments and there can be some significant triggers’.

He recommends that scouting risk documents, which he has inspected, move the focus from the protection of the organisation first to protection of the participants, particularly as ‘one of the biggest risks is child sexual abuse’.

Insurance companies, who underwrite the risk, should commission ‘independent assessors’ to look at system practices, even if it costs more money.

All children under institutional care, Clarrie said, should be taught about their rights and how to get help. It should be mandatory that institutions notify children in their care that a 24-hour children’s hotline exists where they can report abuse.

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