One morning in the early 1980s, scout leader Stuart Ratcliffe collected Pete from his home and drove him to an educational camp north of Sydney. Pete had been to the camp before and he was chuffed that Ratcliffe had asked him to help prepare for new arrivals.
That first night, Pete showered and got into bed in the dorm room.
‘When Stuart came to “switch off the lights”’, Pete wrote to the Commission, ‘he came and sat on the side of my bed and talked non-stop about what we had done that day, what we were planning to do the next day. While he talked his hand sat on the duvet above my crotch. After some time, he put his hand under the duvet and fondled me … Then he took my hand and pressed it against his crotch.’
Pete, 11 years old at the time, didn’t understand what was happening or why. Stuart kept chatting and joking as he abused him, which made it even more confusing.
‘After a while he said it was time for him to go, he tucked me in, switched off the lights, and walked over to the house where he was staying.
‘And that started a pattern that continued on and off for approximately a decade. The only real differences were that sometimes I would be in a different room in the homestead, or sometimes I would be in a room in a third house on the property, on my own. As I grew older he would masturbate me, mop me up with a few tissues, and then try putting my hand on his crotch. Every time he would get no response from me, he would eventually stop talking, switch off the lights and leave … While all of this was happening I didn’t say anything.’
Pete told no one. He didn’t trust anyone enough. His mother asked him at one point if he was ‘being interfered with’, but because he didn’t know how to deal with it, he said no.
Being told explicitly what was normal and what wasn’t, would have helped him a lot, he said. His school showed the kids ‘gruesome’ videos about venereal diseases but Pete doesn’t remember any discussions about what behaviour is unhealthy and what behaviour is criminal.
Ratcliffe was charming and influential in the local community. He knew Pete’s parents, his friends, and his friends’ parents. Stuart would have been smooth enough to talk his way out of any accusation. ‘It was simply too scary to say anything.’
Pete also knew and liked Stuart’s own family. If he’d told anyone, not only would his world fall part but theirs as well. Also, he was earning money from working at the camp and Stuart not only ran the camp, he owned it.
But as Stuart continued abusing him, Pete’s shame about not stopping him grew deeper and deeper. He tormented himself for years.
‘I remember driving there in my own car thinking through and promising to myself that it wasn’t going to happen this time, and rehearsing a conversation in my head to have with Stuart to say, “Okay what’s done is done but … it’s got to stop now”. And then repeatedly never being brave enough to have that conversation.’
It was only when Pete started full-time work that he was able to remove himself from Ratcliffe and his influence.
Years later, Pete talked to a friend about Ratcliffe. He also warned his sister, who’d been offered work at the camp, not to accept it. This led to him disclosing to his mother. She told him to forget about it and just get on with his life.
Pete tried to do just that, but the experience never left him. He suffered ‘years and years of mild depression, difficulty with relationships … in particular with trusting male figures in my life’.
He hasn’t reported Ratcliffe to the police, but has considered it.
Pete has tried different therapies over time but the only treatment that has been effective for him is psychodrama.
‘What helped me was being able to vent frustration openly, to talk about the situations, act them out in replay, and then act them out again in an alternative way, the way that I would have liked it to have happened. I would wholeheartedly recommend group psychodrama to people who have had experiences similar to mine.’
Pete eventually saw Ratcliffe and confronted him about the pain and hurt he’d caused. Ratcliffe apologised. Pete told him to go and get help for himself. This was a turning point for Pete and he felt powerful.
But he still has a feeling of unfinished business. ‘I would like to find more happiness, a better ability to relax.’