When he joined the scouts in the 1950s Gene said he was ‘a pretty bright kid but sensitive, I read a lot’. Living in regional Western Australia he did most of the scouting activities alone, under the remote supervision of a scoutmaster living in Perth (they corresponded by mail, and a man from the local pumping station would test him for his badges).
He felt safe in his local community, spending lots of time exploring the area on his own. ‘There was nothing to harm me up there ... I didn’t need to be tough, because that was the environment I was in. It was gentle.’
At the age of 13 Gene was invited to spend some time in the city during the Christmas holidays, so he could meet other scouts from nearby groups. ‘I had a great time with the scouts ... With my background in the bush, it was ideal for me to do.’
For the duration of this trip he was billeted with his scoutmaster. As soon as he arrived, the man’s wife left to stay with a relative, so the two were alone in the house. Throughout the week the scoutmaster sexually abused him.
‘I’d go to bed, and then there’d be a knock on the door. And that went on – I think I spent about five or six nights there ... And some might say “Well, why didn’t you just leave, why didn’t you tell anyone?” There were a number of reasons. It would have been pretty tough on my parents, to find that sort of information [and] I didn’t know how to contact them.’
As soon as he returned home he cut himself off from the scouting movement and tried to put this episode behind him. In his teens he found work, then joined the military. Apart from ‘the usual things, nuggeting, and that sort of thing, and some fights’ he did not experience any abuse there.
The impacts of the sexual abuse only became apparent to Gene recently, although he had significant social and marital difficulties before this. He’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his experiences in the defence force, and had issues managing his anger.
Gene and his wife Brenda attended a couples’ retreat, where participants discussed their experiences of trauma. Shortly after the retreat he told Brenda about the abuse.
Wanting to report these events to the Scouts, he looked at their website and found the correct person to contact. He called the number provided and left a message.
‘I just wanted to talk about it. I wasn’t angry in any way. I just wanted to try and move on. But I wanted to know that they owned it, they owned the problem. She never returned the call.’
After this he made a report to police. His engagement with them was ‘very good’, and they referred him to the victims of crime service.
As yet Gene has not made any claim for compensation. He would like an admission of responsibility from the Scouts as well as an apology.
Still an avid reader, particularly of philosophy, Gene shared a quote by Karl Marx which has helped him understand his vulnerability and lack of control as a child:
‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please. They do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past.’