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Elliot Joseph's story

Elliot grew up in a large regional centre, and his parents were heavily involved in the local evangelical church. He attended services, Sunday school and other related activities at least four times a week throughout his childhood.

In the early 1970s a man called Jim Wright was employed by the church as an assistant pastor and youth leader. Elliot’s parents trusted Wright and allowed their children to go away with him. ‘He would buy us presents for birthdays and Christmas. Most of the time these presents would be better than the presents our parents would buy us.’

When Elliot was around 12 years old he and his brother went on a camping trip with Wright, with them all sleeping in the same tent.

‘I was in a sleeping bag and I had fallen asleep. I was woken up in the middle of the night, my sleeping bag had been opened and Wright was fiddling with my penis. I recall he was stroking my penis and masturbating me. At the time I was terrified and immediately thought of my brother. I was scared for him and wanted to protect him. I was that scared that I just laid there and did not say a word.’

This abuse occurred many times over the next couple of years – Elliot estimates between 20 and 40 instances – and always consisted of fondling and masturbation. Usually it would take place in Wright’s tent.

Ben, another boy who sometimes accompanied Wright on camping trips, was also being sexually abused. At some point Ben told his parents about what was going on, and the church learned of it.

The pastor then questioned Elliot: ‘Ben’s been telling some stories and he’s in a lot of trouble. Has anything happened between you and Wright?’

‘Shitting myself’ and not wanting to be in trouble too, Elliot denied that anything had happened to him. He also believed that if he reported his abuse he would be labelled a ‘poofter’ and humiliated in the community. ‘I felt that I wouldn’t be treated as a victim but labelled as being gay or enjoying what was happening to me.’

Afterwards Elliot deeply regretted this denial. ‘I swore to myself that if it ever came up again I would never deny it happening.’

Elliot attempted to resist Wright as he grew older, to no avail. Eventually Wright stopped working at the church and Elliot had little interaction with him afterwards. Later Elliot learned that Wright had moved into working with youth in various programs. ‘This was very upsetting to hear.’

When they were in their 20s, Elliot and Ben spoke to each other about the abuse, though not in great detail. This was the first time Elliot had discussed it at all, and he and Ben remain close.

Elliot was married for many years but is now divorced. He thinks he was an over-protective father, and still feels great anger towards Wright for breaking the trust of his own parents.

‘He groomed my parents as well. That’s what really, really got to me. The fact that he sucked us all in. And he was doing this and he would still sit up there on a Sunday and have lunch with my mother and father.’

In the 1990s Elliot reported Wright to police, who discouraged him from pursuing action as it was an ‘old case’. The officer told him ‘most people are dead, nobody wants to talk about it, end of story’, although Wright and the pastor were still alive and working in the church.

In recent years a third party who knew about the abuse informed the church again, and another pastor contacted Elliot to discuss what had happened. This man requested he make another report to authorities as Wright still had contact with children through the church. Learning this, ‘I immediately agreed to report my child sexual assaults to the police to prevent Wright from harming more children’.

Elliot made a statement and participated in a pretext call to Wright. During this conversation Wright admitted abusing Elliot and a number of other children. He also stated that he had confessed the abuse to the pastor and also Ben’s mother at the time, but it appears no action was taken – ‘that made me more cranky than anything’.

At this stage, Elliot advised Wright that the police were the least of his worries.

‘I said, “Mate, when you get to heaven, and then you got to stand before God and explain to him why you’ve been touching all these kids, that’s when you’ve got something to worry about”. And that’s absolutely petrified him when I told him that. And I meant that too. What he did to us is totally wrong.’

It’s unclear to Elliot where the investigation is up to currently, and he’s frustrated that Wright has not yet been charged. ‘We thought the day that he admitted [the abuse] to me on the phone that he would be arrested within a week.’

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