Looking back, Ewen can see how his parents were groomed – and how they failed him.
Migrants from the United Kingdom after World War II, Ewen’s parents settled in the Australian Capital Territory and sent him to a local troop as a cub scout. Through this association they met Hans Van Leewen who ingratiated himself with the family. Soon, Van Leewen was taking Ewen out on day trips.
But instead of seeing the sights, Van Leewen, probably in his 50s and close in age to Ewen’s father, took Ewen to his bedsit in Canberra. Molestation and masturbation followed. Ewen was about nine years old.
‘I was very, very uncomfortable, obviously. It wasn’t something I felt was wrong because nothing in my parents’ experience had actually encouraged them to warn me about these sorts of things. But it became unpleasant and that’s when I told my parents.’
Ewen thinks that because his parents were immigrants, they would have been unaware of what legal options were available.
‘They had no idea what to do when I reported to them what had happened and in retrospect they didn’t do anything with it. They may have raised it but the cub leader involved retained his position afterwards and they seemed not to have taken any legal action because I cannot recall this.’
Ewen thinks that, unlike today, ‘in my generation it was just seen – perhaps – in some ways as a rite of passage’. On the plus side, his parents never allowed Van Leewen into the family home again.
The impact was fairly immediate: Ewen’s education and confidence slipped. He feels, although he will never know, that he might have equalled the achievements of his older brother, a successful professional, had the abuse not occurred.
Another factor, he believes, ‘and I know I am stressing this, but because my parents were migrants, it became quite difficult because they closed off as a result of this. I mean it’s a classic case: the scout leader befriended them, so they trusted him when he wanted to take me somewhere. So they became also quite distrustful of their social group particularly … after they got told “well, these things happen”’.
It was not until he was in his late teens that Ewen realised the abuse was actually a crime.
‘I probably didn’t know what I was actually doing. I knew something was wrong but I was not conscious of what the wrong was, really.’
As an adult he has been unable to forget the sexual abuse. He still feels ‘dirty’ and guilty.
‘You ask yourself, “why me?” That’s one thing you ask. And the other thing is, I know I can’t do anything about it, but should I have done something about it [at the time]? And that’s what it is … you also have a feeling of perhaps people tend to think there are two sides to every experience’, Ewen told the Commissioner.
He said the common experience of sexually abused children who say they ‘froze’ and found themselves incapable of resisting and running away at the time of the abuse ‘sums me up exactly’. Ewen found it surprising that a lot of children did not tell their parents about such abuse.
‘I certainly did, but at the end of the day, from what we now know, I was still left with the very, very sad view that my parents didn’t do enough.’
The abuse, Ewen said, damaged his ability to trust people, impaired his ability to make friendships, ‘particularly with men who were a bit older’, and made him cynical at an early age. Significantly, due to particular circumstances at the time, it was largely responsible for the collapse of his marriage, although Ewen has never discussed the abuse with his former wife.
Recently, discovering that the son of a friend had been abused at Scouts, he disclosed the abuse to his brother. His partner knows now and Ewen has also told his children – it being part of the reason for his divorce.
‘They were shocked. They were shocked for two reasons; one … I was talking about the breakdown of my marriage to their mother and the second thing was purely and simply that I had been molested and which shows, I think, an entirely different view, now, of my kids’ generation from all that happened in my generation and my parents’ generation.’
The experience of his friend’s son was also the impetus for Ewen making contact with the Royal Commission.
‘Obviously [I] look at what happened to me and ask myself, really did it have any effect on my life? Was I embittered by it? And the answer I think is: yes, it did have an impact on my life. No, I am not embittered by it.’
Ewen has never sought professional help for what happened more than half a century ago, but acknowledges that his life may have been different had he not been abused as a young boy.