Ernie was admitted to a Melbourne hospital as a 14-year-old in the mid-1950s. He had a chronic flu-like illness which doctors had failed to diagnose. A young registrar, Dr Peter Lovell, took a particular interest in Ernie’s case, and in Ernie himself.
‘Dr Lovell treated me as someone older, someone special’, Ernie told the Commissioner, ‘allowing me to accompany him on rounds of the ward, handing him a thermometer or scissors when he needed them.’
After some invasive tests Dr Lovell was able to diagnose Ernie’s illness. Weeks of treatment with antibiotics followed and Ernie was allowed to go home. The illness seemed to be almost cured. ‘Needless to say, both my parents and I held Dr Lovell in the highest possible esteem.’
Later that year Lovell contacted the family and offered to take Ernie on a camping trip along the coast. Ernie was excited and his parents quickly agreed.
Ernie admits he was naive at the time and had received no sex education. ‘I had no idea how babies were made … I had no idea how or why men and women had sexual intercourse, or in fact that they did so at all.’
Lovell and Ernie travelled in Lovell’s car, which he had modified so they could both ‘camp’ in the back. On the first night out of Melbourne the two lay down next to each other to sleep. Lovell immediately began groping Ernie’s genitals.
‘I simply had no comprehension of what he was doing to me and why. He said nothing as he masturbated me, unsuccessfully, and then he placed my hand on his penis and indicated how I should masturbate him. He ejaculated onto the sheet and then turned over and went to sleep. I lay there unable to sleep and unwilling to move for fear of awakening him and suffering the same experience again.’
The next day nothing was said about the incident. The abuse occurred every night of the trip. ‘I was too in awe of Dr Lovell to say anything, although each night I did try to resist his attacks by making it difficult for him to reach me, but to no avail.’
Despite the abuse, Ernie remembers the days of that holiday being ‘interesting and fun’. Lovell was, ‘generous, kind, attentive. I could find no fault with him’. Later that summer Ernie was again invited on a trip with Dr Lovell, this time to a friend’s home. ‘Dr Lovell and I slept in the same bedroom and each night he asked me to join him in bed for a repeat of the same activities.’
Ernie did not hear from Dr Lovell again after this, and saw him only once some years later on a ward at the hospital. Ernie never mentioned the abuse to his parents. ‘I would never tell my parents. They died not knowing. They would have been mortified.’ In fact Ernie told no one about Dr Lovell for almost 50 years. He finally confided in a psychologist early in the new century, when he was being treated after a traumatic accident. The psychologist suggested Ernie approach the police.
It was another five years before Ernie felt ready to tell the police his story. Ernie is positive about the police response, which was sympathetic and professional. They did some research and contacted him quickly, telling Ernie there had been no other complaints about Dr Lovell going back to the 1950s. Ernie decided not to press for any action.
Ernie has led a busy working life. He has a successful marriage and supportive adult children. Ernie has battled depression at times, but he is reluctant to blame his childhood sexual abuse for those troubles. He does admit to thinking about the abuse more often when the ‘black dog’ pays a visit.
Looking to the future, Ernie believes education is the key. ‘For my generation, my parents never mentioned anything about sex … We’re pretty open with our kids. We revealed all to them early on.’
Ernie told the Commissioner, ‘Earliest possible education of children of the dangers and recognising the symptoms, recognising the grooming techniques … If I had had half a clue what it was about. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve screamed and yelled and kicked him in the nuts.
‘But of course I didn’t.’