George loved performing in the Gang Shows that were put on by the scouts and girl guides. Those shows are still produced now but they were a much bigger deal back in the 1970s.
George grew up in Melbourne in the 1960s and 70s. He joined the cubs when he was eight and went to meetings in the Presbyterian church hall. He progressed to the scouts and in his early teens auditioned for the Gang Show. He was very excited when he was accepted.
Tony Seaton was one of the producers. Everyone involved in the show was a scout, including the producers and directors, and Tony ran his own troop. He was in his mid 20s, popular and gregarious, ‘the life of the party’.
George was the only one in his troop to take part in the show. Tony started to single him out during rehearsals. He remembers there was ‘a definite grooming phase’ when Tony started to make sexual comments about him.
‘I was starting to feel special, because he was the most important and popular person in the Gang Show. He was always making people laugh.’
Tony also groomed George’s mother and father. When he started taking him to the movies he would ‘turn up with a massive box of chocolates for the family.’
‘The end game for when he first abused me was, he took me to his home … to pick something up and then pulled his camera out.’ Tony started taking photos and told George to take his clothes off and put on a pair of swimmers. ‘Then he abused me after that.’ The thought of those photos still haunts him.
George recalls seeing a room in Tony’s house that was stacked floor to ceiling with photo boxes, and wondering whether Tony might have been a child pornographer. ‘It still worries me that he may have had many, many victims’ from the Gang Show and his own scout troop.
The most nerve-racking abuse took place at a cast reunion not far from Melbourne when Tony found a reason to take George to the camp hall where he sexually abused him.
‘Here I was away from home and … just really under the control of someone that my parents had trusted to look after me, that I was still trusting to look after me. But it was really flagrant and risky because he really stood to be discovered.’
When George’s mother once asked him why Tony was paying him so much attention, George said that the man was probably lonely.
The sexual abuse continued for two years, but the homophobic environment of the time stopped George from telling anyone. He also felt confused about his sexuality – if Tony had chosen him, then maybe he was gay.
George’s love of the Gang Show had been tainted by Tony’s abuse, but he kept applying to get in. ‘And that was part of the confusion, too. Why am I putting myself in danger?’
George didn’t pass his audition for his third Gang Show, and took that as a sign that he was no longer wanted. He thought, ‘I’ve been dumped’.
Later that year, when George heard that Tony had been caught sexually abusing someone at a rehearsal, he pretended to be shocked. There was no follow-up, and as far as he knows, no police action. He was never questioned, and the Scouts showed no duty of care. ‘There was nothing, and as far as I can see, there’s still nothing.’
The most damaging thing for George has been the secret keeping because ‘that affected my family, affected my thinking and my emotional development’.
George became depressed in his early 20s, but the depression was seen to be related to a bout of glandular fever. He sought psychological help twice, once at university and again in his 30s, but the treatment was completely ineffective.
As the depression got worse, George self-medicated with alcohol. He said that he could form relationships with women his own age, ‘but I became just absolutely uncontrollably promiscuous, so there was no boundaries’.
His relationships ended badly, and his friendships with men were difficult. He felt worthless and incompetent, always measuring himself against other people and falling short.
In the mid 1990s, when the police ran an operation targeting child sex offenders, George reported the abuse over the phone and told them everything he could remember. The police told him they knew about the Gang Shows.
Eventually he got a phone call back to say that there’d be no further action. He was offered no counselling or referrals of any kind. ‘That was just terrible’, he said. ‘It had taken me 25 years to make a police report and it didn’t go anywhere.’
George eventually found a good psychologist. He has had counselling for the past 20 years, but the shame sticks around.
He hasn’t applied for compensation.
‘Organisations like the Scouts need to remember it’s not about damage control and reputation, and protecting scarce resources … It’s also about the survivors and that’s far more useful redress I think … Denial is not a good option.’