Perry joined the scouts in the early 1970s when he was 11. He loved it so much that by age 14 he refused to move on to venturers with the other boys and stayed on at scouts for a few more months.
Perry adored the group partly because they offered him an escape from his parents’ constant bickering, but mostly it was because of one man: Scoutmaster Chris Neilson.
‘He’d take us all out’, Perry said. ‘Not just us vulnerable kids. He’d be taking us to the movies, the beach, showing us a great time. At the time he was my hero. He was everything I wanted to be.’
Only in hindsight can Perry see that Neilson’s apparent acts of kindness and generosity were really acts of strategy designed to groom him and other vulnerable boys for sexual abuse. In that goal, Neilson succeeded.
Perry was 14 when he invited the scout troop – Neilson included – to sleepover at his house. Perry’s parents, who trusted Neilson completely, had encouraged the event. That night Neilson sexually abused Perry for the first time.
‘We were all camped in our sleeping bags in the lounge room, and I woke up and he’s at it.’
In the immediate aftermath Perry felt frightened and confused.
‘I was completely naive, so when this started happening, I was scared. I knew it was wrong. I didn’t know that it was a crime. Or I must have known that it was a crime but didn’t realise the seriousness of it.’
Then as the abuse continued he began to feel a sense of responsibility to Neilson. ‘Because he was a hero to me, someone I adored and worshipped, that’s why I didn’t do anything.’
A few months after the first incident, Perry left the scouts. But he could not escape Neilson who regularly dropped round to Perry’s house to take him on trips in his car. Even after Perry left town at 16 to start an apprenticeship, the abuse continued. On each return visit either he or Neilson would initiate contact and more incidents would follow.
The situation carried on this way for another three years. Then Perry began to suspect that Neilson was sexually abusing his 10-year-old brother, Frank.
‘My brother was telling me that Neilson used to do the same: pick him up, take him out to places he liked to go, give him things he liked. And my brother said he used to actually sit at the front door waiting for him. Because he was so good and so kind to him. But in the background, another story.’
One day Perry asked his brother if he’d been abused, and Frank said yes. They never spoke of the matter again and the abuse continued unchanged. This is something that Perry has always regretted.
‘I was scared. I was gutless. I should have looked after my little brother. I was too humiliated, ashamed, embarrassed and scared to do anything. It got to the point where I thought if I was to go to the authorities and report this, I’d just be labelled a poofter or something like that and asked, “Why didn’t you do it before?”’
Perry believes that Neilson stopped abusing his brother a short while later. Perry, on the other hand, continued to suffer for a few more years. At 21 he realised that ‘this guy was not what I thought he was’ and brought the abuse to an end.
In the years that followed, Perry used drugs and alcohol to cope with his guilt, shame and intrusive memories. ‘I’d get totally bombed out, and just try and push all this aside. Then you wake up the next day and it’s still there.’
In his late 20s Perry got his substance abuse problem under control, found a good job and settled down.
‘My work life is pretty stable. My social life isn’t too bad. I don’t get up to much these days … I think I’ve got everything under control. I’m not too bad. You have some days that are not so good and you remember things, but you try and put them aside and you get on with your life.’
For decades he kept the abuse to himself, never disclosing it to his parents. Then a few years ago the whole story came out. It was Frank who brought it up.
‘He broke down and confessed that he had been abused. Mum told me this a couple of days later, when he wasn’t there, and I said, “Well, Mum, I’m in the same boat. Same person abused me”.’
From that moment on, Frank cut himself off from the family. Perry said, ‘It’s killing my parents. I understand if he wants to hate me, because I did nothing about it. He can hate me. But it’s not fair on my parents’.
Perry wants to reconnect with his brother but he’s doubtful it will ever happen. He only hopes that some good can come from their suffering.
‘I just want some positive things to come out of this so that other kids don’t end up like me. I’m not the person I should have grown into.’