‘I’ve never really had the opportunity to have my story heard, so it’s almost a bit surreal to be here’, Dominic said.
He felt it was important to come because he wanted to inform the Commission about the man who abused him, James Wallace.
‘I don’t know what other things he might have done. Maybe he didn’t do anything else but I don’t know’, he said.
Wallace was the leader of a cub pack located in an outer suburb of Melbourne that Dominic belonged to in the late 1970s. Dominic joined as a seven year old, and remained part of the group until he became a scout when he was 11.
‘I went right through. It was a great experience. The whole scouting movement was a great thing. But it wasn’t really good what that cub leader was doing.’
Among the cub pack’s activities were sleepovers in the hall where they met and weekend camps away, staying at scout halls in the wider district. Wallace was in charge of these outings, and he was usually supported by one or two parent volunteers acting as assistant leaders. Dominic is not sure why these other adults never intervened in what he recalls as quite overt sexual abuse by Wallace of all the boys in the group.
‘This is a thing I still do not get today, why none of the others said anything’, he said to the Commissioner.
‘What would happen is in the evening he would line us up outside before we were going to bed and we’d all have our pyjamas on, and then he’d come round and stick his hands down our pants, to supposedly check if we had our underpants on. That was the reasoning that he gave. I was only a kid so I didn’t really get it.’
Once all the boys were in bed Wallace would come around and in semi-darkness fondle the boys again - just checking one more time, he told them, that they weren’t going to bed in their underpants. ‘And I always at the time I was a little bit confused - I was like, why does he need to be doing that?’
Dominic never resisted, and nor did the other boys.
‘When I look back now as an adult, I can see that because I saw the cub leader as an authority figure, and the person responsible for us going camping away, somehow I thought well, this is just what happens. I didn’t feel like I really had a choice. So in that regard I never thought to say anything.’
As the years passed, Dominic began to doubt what had happened, and whether it was actually abuse. At a family event however he brought it up with his brother and in the conversation that followed it emerged that his brother, who’d also been a cub, had been abused by Wallace as well.
‘We ended up having this whole conversation and realised it definitely did happen’, Dominic said.
He has not reported the abuse to police but told the Commissioner that he wanted to. He wasn’t sure however that he could recall enough detail for a prosecution to be possible. ‘I can remember the smells … and I can remember how I felt in my body, but I can’t remember dates, times’, he explained.
Dominic suffered serious depression in his late teens and beyond, and for some years had counselling and therapy. After completing university studies he made a change in his career path to work in raising awareness of youth mental health issues. He returned to the profession he’d studied at university for a while but decided there was more to life than material success and now works mainly in the area of emotional health and wellbeing.
‘My career has been one more of – without wanting to sound too fluffy – one of following my heart.’
He was very clear about the lasting consequences of Wallace’s abuse.
‘I felt taken from’, he said. ‘He wasn’t touching me to help me, he was touching me for his own pleasure. That ended up colouring my relationship with people in positions of authority.’ Dominic still feels a need to be vigilant, and to always ask the question: ‘Is what I’m seeing authentic, and motivated from a place of good will and care, as opposed to wanting to take.’
It also affected him sexually.
‘I had an experience of what I call genital numbness’, he said – a lack of feeling round his hips, buttocks and genital area. ‘It affected my interest in sex and sexuality and sexual desire and, you know, it took like 25, 30 years before I got to a point where I recognised that that actually was going on … I also had confusion come up about my sexuality, because I’d enjoyed pleasurable touch from an adult male who was also an authority figure.’
Dominic believes that better checks of people working in leadership roles with children would have made a difference at the time of the abuse. He recommended having two people in the role rather than one.
‘Just having two leaders brings a bit more consciousness to the responsibility around choices and actions that the leaders are making. It also actually protects the leaders.’
Age appropriate education for children is also needed, he said. It needs to happen when they’re young, around seven, and again as they enter adolescence ‘just to learn those really basic things, and to know that it’s okay to have a no. I didn’t realise it was okay to have a no’.