Nathan James's story

After his parents divorced, Nathan lived with his mother in Sydney and during school holidays he would go to different sport and recreation camps. In the 1980s, when he was 10, he went on a camp organised by the YMCA.

While Nathan was at the camp he was sexually abused by Ed Bridge, one of the camp supervisors. Early on in the camp, Bridge had asked the boys which of their parents were divorced.

‘I was the only one there that had divorced parents because in [the 1980s] people got divorced, but not like they do now’, Nathan said. ‘And because I didn’t have a father I feel that maybe he targeted me more, ’cause he knew that there was no bloke that would come and maybe clock him.’

One day Bridge suggested to Nathan that he show him ‘this trick’. He took Nathan into his section of the cabin and once there, began ‘dry rooting’ and fondling him. The same thing happened on two other occasions with Bridge becoming more aggressive each time. Nathan saw Bridge acting in a similar way with another boy.

‘I remember Bridge playing with him on the veranda. It’s weird ’cause you know something’s odd but you can’t put your finger on it at 10. You just can’t work it out. You don’t know what sexuality is. You don’t understand all that stuff just yet, so you can’t quite see it for what it is.

‘But there were some kids in that group from my public school and after the camp when we went back to school I remember them teasing me and saying that I was a poof, and I couldn’t work out why. I couldn’t understand why they were – because they’d seen it; they’d witnessed it happening and seeing me go into his room and seeing it from that angle.’

When he was about 12, Nathan went to another camp, this one run by NSW Sport and Recreation. There he met a camp supervisor aged in his 20s who was ‘a creepy guy’. The man told Nathan and two other boys that due to water shortages they’d need to shower together and he then stood by and watched them. Nathan felt uncomfortable and left, but in the changing room the man ‘seemed to be having a good perve’.

The man also told boys that because of ‘health laws’ they weren’t allowed to wear underwear with their pyjamas, and he did nightly inspections to check. ‘He used that as an excuse to have a feel around’, Nathan said.

Nathan didn’t disclose any of the incidents to his mother or anyone else at the time. One day he saw media reports that referred to Bridge being charged with child sex offences and he made a statement to New South Wales Police. He gave evidence at Bridge’s trial but his account was removed from the final list of charges because the ‘abuse of the other boys was a lot worse’. Bridge was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in jail.

Afterwards, Nathan received $45,000 victims compensation but he hadn’t made any other claims for redress.

He felt guilty that he’d never reported the other supervisor and although he didn’t know his name or exact dates, thought he might still report what had happened to the police, in case ‘he’s out there somewhere’.

Nathan told the Commissioner that he’d started to sniff paint thinners at the age of 12, and at 15 was drinking alcohol and smoking. He completed his Higher School Certificate, found work and had travelled overseas but drug use and depression had been significant markers in his life. In recent years, he’d felt more affected by the abuse than he had at any previous time.

‘It seems to upset me more than it did. Earlier in your life you seem to block it and getting into life when you’re in your 20s and you’re just putting it aside and trying to make your life work. Maybe we get more reflective as we get older.’

He said he was doing ‘not too bad, but not too great’ and wondered at the ability of other people to lead fulfilling lives.

‘I don’t have the capacity to be as happy as other people. I just couldn’t have children, there’s no way. I don’t want to get married. I don’t want to have kids. The whole thing scares me. It doesn’t make sense to me, even. Having a career and all that, it escaped me. There was no way I could. ‘[I was] just struggling with internal stuff.’

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