Nils's story

Nils was sexually abused in the mid-1970s, when he was about 11 years old. His abuser was his scout leader, Mr Johnson, who was also a good friend of his father and a frequent babysitter for the family.

‘I kind of thought in my 11 or 12-year-old head when it first started happening, that I’d just keep my mouth shut and put up with it. And then I worked out it was happening to my brothers and sisters as well. And so then I went and told my dad, which was the bravest thing I’d ever done in my life at that stage. And he didn’t really do anything.

‘So then he started abusing my cousins and one of them ran away from home. Because she ran away from home, the police got involved so we all ended up in the police station giving statements. And the copper, who seemed to be a fair enough guy, it was really heartbreaking because at the end of it he just said, “Well, I’m sorry but it’s just words of kids against words of an adult and there’s nothing we can really do, we won’t get a conviction”. So that was pretty crushing.’

After Nils went to the police, Johnson stopped coming to the house and babysitting, and he avoided him at scouts. But his schoolwork was already suffering. ‘They accused me of being inattentive. But no one ever asked why.’

He saw Johnson again when he was about 16. The family was moving interstate and he arrived to help them pack the house. Nils tensed up, as if to protect himself. ‘Johnson just said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything”, and walked away.’

Nils said he got on with life, managed to hold down a job, started his own business and got married.

‘And then at the age of 37, when my first child was born, that’s when it all just, everything that I’d been repressing, ‘cause that’s what you do, just to survive, you just push it down, your memories, your emotions, everything. But when my first child was born it all came to the surface. So I was just a wreck …

‘I couldn’t work, I couldn’t drive my car … I was just in a nightmare, you couldn’t live like that, I would have taken my own life. Fortunately I managed to, with the help of therapists and all that, I managed to work out how to deal with things … Through understanding what was going on, slowly the symptoms started to lessen. I still have my times with it.’

Nils went back to the police and reported Johnson again, and this time they took him seriously. The man was later convicted of child sex offences.

‘I just wanted to be clear about this fella, that he’d had hundreds, I’m even tempted to say thousands. That was the nature of the kind of guy he was. You couldn’t leave him in a room with a kid for five minutes. Obviously a very sick man. But someone who just has to be kept off the streets …

‘All those years I felt pretty lonely, even though I knew he’d abused a lot of other people, no one was prepared to stand with me and talk about it because it really marks you apart, you know. Hopefully it’s changing, but people don’t want to know when you first start.

‘I was only a kid. “Oh, that’s in the past, you know, it happened in the past, don’t worry about that, just look to the future.” All this nonsense that people say to you to get you to shut up, usually because they’re scared of it reflecting on them because they didn’t do anything. You know, my parents didn’t do anything, the Scout Association didn’t do anything, the police didn’t do anything. So they all want you to shut up and go away …

‘I still have a lot of anger about the fact that it took 37 years before I was listened to by the system. An incredible amount of anger at the system, to be honest with you.’

The process of going through the criminal trial severely impacted his relationship with his family and he no longer has anything to do with his parents, after they refused to stand by him. He said all he ever wanted was for his father to apologise for his part in the events. However, he says his own children are the best thing that ever happened to him.

‘They’ve actually given me the courage to heal myself, to make myself healthy and deal with these issues. Otherwise I don’t know where I’d be. Not in a very good way, I think.’

He has recently engaged with the process of seeking compensation through victims of crime but has found it very frustrating and is not sure he’ll pursue it.

‘Victims just give up in the end, they think well, forget about the government. It’s not that I’m really after money, that’s not it but somewhere these institutions have to be held accountable …

‘I definitely have anger towards this paedophile guy, and I have anger towards my father. But the real anger lies around how these people are able to just get away with it. So the real anger is not for the perpetrators of the crime, it’s at the institutions and everyone that just let these people walk around with impunity.’

As well as his children, Nils now finds support through his involvement with survivor networks, and supporting others to come forward.

‘Humanity has been very abused and traumatised. And without treatment we carry that on to the next generation … Unless you really look at it, and have some therapy, you’re in a grave danger of passing things on even if it’s partly unintentional or subconscious.

‘There’s more pressure on men to be independent and sort it all out ourselves. I felt like I’d failed that I couldn’t do it all myself.’

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