Garnett was born in the late 1950s, and grew up in a family that was closely involved with the local scout community. ‘My father was a scout leader, and my mother was the cub leader’, he said. ‘I had grown up in the scouting movement.’
In the early 1970s, when Garnett was in his early teens, he was ‘an outgoing, confident and artistic teenager’ who was interested in pursuing a creative career. His enthusiasm and skill attracted the attention of Ned Perkins, a family friend and scout leader in his early 20s.
Perkins, who had asked Garnett to design a logo for his group, dropped around one day when Garnett was home alone. During this visit, Perkins groped Garnett’s genitals and squeezed them twice.
‘I was confused and could not comprehend what he had done. I remember asking myself if this was a way that older men greeted one another like they do shaking hands. I could not understand it. I decided not to mention it to my parents because I was not sure what had just happened.’
Following that incident, Perkins visited a few times and asked Garnett’s mother if he could accompany him to the scout hall to work on the logo, but Garnett hid, pretended not to be home, or said he had something else to do.
In the years that followed, Perkins continued to invite Garnett to scouting events and be sure to sit next to him as they travelled. ‘He would rub his arm or leg against me while his wife or another family member was sitting on his other side.’
When Garnett was in his mid-teens, he attended a scout camp with his brother. However, when they arrived, there was no room in the dormitory, and Garnett was forced to sleep in another room between his brother and Perkins.
Twice during the night, Garnett woke to find Perkins with ‘his hand in my sleeping bag, under my pyjama pants and … masturbating me’. On both occasions, Garnett ran out of the room to tell his friend Simon what had happened, and to beg to stay in the dormitory. However, Simon didn’t believe him. With no room in the dormitory, Garnett had to return to the other room.
The next day, Garnett wanted to go home, but his father convinced him to stay, so he pretended to be sick to avoid taking part in the camp activities. Garnett and Simon never spoke of that night again, and Garnett did not disclose the abuse to his brother or parents.
In the years that followed, Garnett withdrew from people, and his grades suffered. He left school before completing Year 12, abandoned his creative ambition, and went to work as a storeman.
Garnett developed a fear of older men, and suffered panic attacks if he met someone he thought was gay. He contemplated murdering Perkins, and taking his own life.
‘I bottled it all up inside and, for a long time, I never spoke to anyone about what had happened or the deep down pain and shame I was feeling … Was it my fault? Was there something about me that made me attractive to old men? Was I like Mr Perkins? And was I gay?’
While Garnett’s friends progressed in their careers, got married and started families, Garnett was unable to form relationships with women. This ‘gave rise to gossip, innuendo and jokes’. He started abusing alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs.
In his 20s, and while under the influence of prescription drugs, Garnett told his mother about the abuse. ‘Naturally she was shocked and hurt, as was my father. They asked why I had not told them when it happened. My excuse was that Mr Perkins was a scout leader, a friend of the family’s at the time, and I did not think anyone would believe me.’
After disclosing to his mother, Garnett began to tell others about his experience. ‘I wanted to tell people, no matter how much of an ordeal it was for me to get it out. In the end I found that I was not his only victim and that Mr Perkins had interfered with other boys and young men in his charge.’
Eventually, Garnett found satisfying work in the media industry and in his early 30s he married and had children. He disclosed the abuse to his wife early in their relationship and, as a survivor of sexual abuse herself, she was understanding and supportive.
Garnett decided to report Perkins to the police, but found out that there was no prospect of a prosecution because Perkins had since died. Later he rang Scouts Australia to report the abuse. Although there was no written response, he felt that he had been listened to. He has never pursued any application for compensation.
Some years later, Perkins was posthumously immortalised when a local event was named after him. Garnett endured this ‘honour’ for a number of years until he contacted the organisers and succeeded in getting them to rename the event.
Garnett’s mother recently mentioned Perkins’ abuse of her son to a retired scout leader who confessed that he had always had his suspicions. This admission shocked Garnett who ‘felt I had been let down and abused all over again’.
Garnett said that he ‘lost 15 good years of my life’ because of what Perkins did to him. ‘Although today I have a good family and a job, I won’t say I am completely over it. What Ned Perkins did to me will live with me for the rest of my life.’