Ewan’s parents drank a lot, and there was domestic violence in the family home. ‘We used to wander around, we didn’t attend school, and my father and mother were locals at the pub.’ In the early 1970s, when Ewan was four years old, Welfare intervened and took him and his siblings into care. ‘There were no support services given to my mother, father, or us to rekindle that relationship.’
Ewan was then made a Western Australia state ward. At first the children were taken to an assessment centre, then fostered out together for a short while before being split up. When Ewan was 13 he was fostered out to welfare worker Norma Smith and her husband, living with them for the next four years.
During this time Norma sexually abused Ewan. ‘I always thought it was a crime, because I always thought, even when I was in that situation, it was illegal to have sex until you were 16.’ Having been raised in various Christian religions, he was, however, more concerned with ‘the moral status’ of what was happening.
Mr Smith had suspicions about the relationship between Norma and Ewan, and reported his concerns to the department. This resulted in Ewan regularly being questioned by another welfare officer over the next few years, but he consistently denied the abuse.
He believed that if he disclosed he would be moved to a residential facility, and this would mean losing the friends he had made in the area, as well as changing school and sporting teams. ‘I had been removed and placed at three different placements in less than a year and spent time in multiple institutions so I was not going to mess this one up. I needed it until I turned 18.’
Additionally, Ewan had ‘created this world or this belief around [how] I was in control of my destiny’, and managed to ‘compartmentalise’ the abuse away from the rest of his life. ‘Yes, I know this is happening but I can put this in a little pigeonhole. But I still appear normal at school. I still have friends, I still have girlfriends. I’m a good sportsman.’
At 17 Ewan left the couple to go working. A few years later he went to visit Mr and Mrs Smith.
‘We were talking and she decided to hit on me again. So I never went back.’
Ewan married in his early 20s, and told his wife about the abuse. Aware of the common misconception ‘that if it [abuse] happens to you, you’ll do it to someone else’ he was concerned when their first daughter was born. ‘I thought, oh my God, what have I created here? So that was something I worked with really hard to try and get through.’
He has worked diligently to deal with the impacts of the abuse, including difficulty showing physical affection, even to family. ‘I had to make a concerted effort, a front of my mind effort ... Just so that I would be able to hug my children.’
Ewan struggled with the idea that the sexual abuse was his fault, and the attitude that being abused by a woman was somehow not abuse at all, or even something to be grateful for.
‘I continuously find that the underlying attitude - that is not stated - is that I should consider myself lucky as I was getting a “free education” that any young man would love to have at 14. What these people and society in general fails to understand is the psychological impact this treatment has had on me in all relationships afterwards, whether it be with my relatives, my wife, friends and my children. This has had a negative impact on every aspect of my life and continues to do so today.’
When Ewan was in his 40s he and his wife attended marriage counselling. This helped him understand ‘in cold, hard facts’ that the abuse by Norma ‘wasn’t my fault. I had no control’. This realisation was difficult, as he had placed great value on being in control of his circumstances at the time, and for a while ‘I wasn’t a nice person to be around’.
Around five years ago Ewan reported the matter to police, but was informed that nothing could be done as there was no legislation relating to female offenders at the time.
‘To allow a paedophile the ability to live a free and unencumbered life simply because the previous generation of lawmakers and politicians did not fully understand the grasp these people had on society is unforgiveable. When the victim remains the victim forever without some form of recompense by the perpetrator in relation to the law.’
He followed up the issue with the attorney general, who replied that laws cannot be made retrospective but that he may have grounds for action under another section of the criminal code.
The police child abuse unit, however, would not proceed because they considered that the sexual activity had been consensual, since Ewan did not disclose it as abuse when given the opportunity. ‘I deem it as accepting the lesser of two evils, with the ability I had at the time to make informed choices.’
Ewan lodged an application with the state redress scheme and was awarded a ‘mid-range’ ex gratia payment. ‘Because there were too many that applied, as my understanding is, redress payments were halved. Just like that. So it left a lot of people feeling again abused by the system.’ He is seeking legal advice regarding a possible civil claim.
As an adult Ewan reconnected with his siblings, several of whom were also sexually abused in care. He has never reconnected with his parents. His successful working life has been vital to his wellbeing, as has his supportive wife and commitment to his family.
‘I’d like to acknowledge my wife, who’s also been on this journey and is in her own rights a victim of the process as well. So I’d like to say thank you to her formally and officially, and get it out there, for putting up with me for so long.’