Kim Herbert's story

In the late 1960s Kim’s father, Harry, got a new job and moved the family to Canberra. Kim was just a baby at the time and doesn’t remember much about those early years nor can he pinpoint exactly when his father started sexually abusing him, but he believes it was from when he was about seven years old.

At that time, Harry was serving as an elder and a lay preacher at one of the local Christian churches. Kim now has reason to believe that the church knew what his father was doing – not just to him but to other boys as well – and took little action to stop it.

For instance, in the mid-1970s Harry was scheduled to run a camp for a group of boys but before the event took place he approached the leader of the church and ‘told him that he had certain feelings and aspirations towards these boys’. The camp was cancelled but as far as Kim knows, nothing else was done.

A few years later, a couple who were part of the congregation reported to church elders that Harry had abused their son. This time the church took some action, evicting Harry from his position as elder. Kim said, ‘More people in the church knew of it as well and they took certain behaviours, precautions. My mother was offered to take herself and her children out of this situation at that time but she refused’.

Harry continued to work for the church and none of the elders reported him to police. Nor did anyone in Kim’s family. It didn’t occur to Kim that this was even an option.

‘I wasn’t aware, as a child, that this behaviour was something wrong, because I was a child and had nothing else to compare it to.’

Things changed when Kim was about 12 years old. ‘I became aware that this was not right, and basically I said no.’ From then on, Harry never abused Kim again. But he continued to abuse other boys. Kim recalled:

‘When it stopped with me at the age of 12, I was then the recruiter for other children, for want of a better word. So he then preyed on my friends. It got to the point where I still didn’t understand what that was, what was happening, but I do remember back as a child: “Well it’s happening to somebody else and not me”. And as much as that sounds – it’s a preservation, self-survival reaction: it’s over there and not over here. And as a 12-year-old you do whatever you have to, to survive.’

From then on, Kim said, his sense of self-worth and self-confidence dropped. He found it difficult to trust others and became fiercely independent.

‘I was always fearful of not being able to support myself. That was always a conscious idea, I suppose, that I had to do everything myself. I never looked to my father for anything. … Basically I had to learn my own way of right and wrong. I’ve always taken a very strong approach to right and wrong and always tried to do the right thing.’

The first time Kim really spoke about the abuse was at age 20 when he mentioned it to his mother. ‘She believed what I said but she trivialised what it was that had happened and still does to this day.’ Over the years Kim has also disclosed the abuse to some friends and to his wife who was immediately supportive and continues to be so.

A few years ago Kim reported his father to police. The police contacted Harry who admitted to the abuse, but because of a technical legal issue, Harry was never charged. Kim said it was hard to accept such a disappointing outcome at the time but he’s managed to move on.

‘Look, the law is the law. As much as it frustrates me, I keep coming back to: “No, I gave this to somebody else to deal with in this process and they did and that’s now their business”.’ He is now focused on dealing with the personal issues and disagreements that have divided his family.

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