‘I sent an email to [the district commissioner] explaining just how … disappointed and gutted I was to find out that an organisation I joined was such a load of garbage … There’s just this image … They don’t care about child welfare. And that’s a big statement to make for one of the largest, or probably the largest youth organisation, in the world. They do not care about child welfare … It’s about numbers. It’s about money.’
Davida became a scout leader when her son joined the scouts in the 2000s, and believed in the philosophy and ideology of the organisation. She underwent a lot of training in order to attain positions of leadership, and she and her husband even spent their own money to support kids who couldn’t afford to go on camps.
Davida met another volunteer, Julie, who had an intellectual disability. Julie was 19 at the time. She had been with the scouts for years and worked as a volunteer assistant.
Immediately Davida noticed what she thought was inappropriate physical contact between Julie and a much older man, Tim, who volunteered in sports and other activities. Davida voiced her concerns to Julie’s mother, who found evidence that Julie had been having a sexual relationship with Tim for some time – since before she was 18.
Tim had also sent Julie some threatening text messages to keep her quiet about it. When they spoke to Julie it emerged that Tim would pick her up in a scouts vehicle and take her to scout-owned locations, where he would abuse her.
During her training Davida had been told that if ever there was an incident or accident, to contact the scouts media people first and they would contact the authorities, even for 000 emergencies.
‘We had this number and they managed the media. They managed the police ... “You tell us what happened and we’ll tell them what happened. You don’t speak to the police”.’
Davida reported her concerns to Gordon Taylor, a scouts district commissioner. ‘I trusted the people who were in positions of authority to handle it appropriately … so that they could provide Julie and her family with support … The first thing I thought they would do is get Tim out of scouts straight away. They didn’t do that.’
The scouts also didn’t report anything to the police. ‘Gordon Taylor’s words to me were “Look, don’t worry. Our solicitors will talk to their solicitors”. They’ll come to an arrangement, he said, and the matter will just go away.’
Davida decided to report the matter to police herself and Tim was arrested. At first Scouts Australia denied the sexual relationship to the police.
‘Initially they said that there’s no relationship at all … Once it became known that something had gone on, then it was all of a sudden “Julie doesn’t have an intellectual disability and it was a consensual relationship”. All of a sudden she stopped having an intellectual disability because it was no longer convenient.’
They also tried to claim they weren’t responsible for Tim’s actions because he didn’t have a leadership role. They ‘believed that their culpability … with Tim, is dependent on his actual role in scouting. Tim was a leader at one point … in one group, and he was moved to another group and did something else wrong, and he was moved to another group. Did something else wrong. Moved to another group. And his role, his title, changed at different positions … So [he] wasn’t specifically a leader, a group leader or a section leader. But he still wore a uniform … He had a scout vehicle’. Tim also had keys to all the scout buildings and accommodations – locations where the abuse occurred.
Although there was sufficient evidence to lay charges, the police didn’t pursue the case, believing it was unlikely to succeed in court. During this process and beyond, Davida discovered a culture of denial and cover-up within the scouts and that the scouts also had connections within the community that supported that culture.
‘I was met by Taylor again and a member from the [local] council … [who] said “It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. There’s nothing that you can do about it” … And that was his attitude towards sexual abuse of children …
‘[The scouts] will lie. You can have someone like Gordon Taylor, who’s been in scouts for 30 years, who will sit there and say to you, “I know nothing about any cases of sexual abuse” when he has had one reported to him and he’s said “I’m not going to do anything about it. It’s your problem. Deal with it”. They lie …
‘If there was a scouts investigation it was unknown to the family. It was unknown to myself. It was unknown to anyone. From my understanding they have a way of dealing with these things. They have police involved in the scouting association. They’re called “police scouters” … They’ll just deal with these things.’
The thing that distressed Davida the most was the lack of support for Julie. ‘There’d been no counselling offered to Julie. There’d been no support offered to Julie … She’d been shunned by the whole scouting community … She felt like she had done the wrong thing by coming forward. She was devastated.’
Davida said that both she and Julie were eventually kicked out of the scouts, via letter. For Julie this triggered a ‘meltdown’. Meanwhile, Tim was allowed to work for scouts for several more months then retire with his reputation intact.
Davida saw the focus within the scouts as being growth at all costs. ‘I was pressed, constantly pushed … to grow the group. I grew mine so much we split it into two groups. Because the kids had fun. The pressure to grow is intense. The pressure to retain is intense. So anything else, anything that gets in the way of that process, will be dealt with.’