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Rick Peter's story

A child of the 1950s, Rick was raised as a Catholic. Back then, good Catholic women didn't get divorced – even if their husbands, like Rick’s father, were violent alcoholics.

'Divorce was a definite no-no … You were ashamed of it, you were afraid to tell anybody, and the priests and nuns would certainly not have been empathetic or understanding. So it was kept a secret.'

The year his parents split was his first in high school. As the eldest of a large family, Rick had to be a leader at home. 'I was always a bit distracted by my domestic life to get close to people at school.'

His social life looked to be expanding when at age 15 he joined the Air Force Cadets. However, the basic impulse was not social – 'I just wanted to be a pilot'.

'Cadets were popular: they were hard to get into. And we were very lucky to have the last of the World War II air crew as our instructors.'

A couple of years later, 17-year-old Rick went on a trip with the cadets to an Air Force base. Duties included helping out in the kitchen, where he met Corporal Williams, a cook 'in his mid-30s, married with young children'.

'He befriended me, asked me to go to various things. One of them was a motorbike race. Then it was come up and meet the family, stay the weekend. This went on for about six months.

'Then he asked me along on a fishing trip during the school holidays … His family were camped at this beach, and he and I took the four-wheel-drive down the sand, about 10 miles. It was a very isolated spot, good for night fishing apparently. We were going to sleep in the car, then drive back the next morning.'

In the wee small hours, something disturbed Rick's sleep. 'I woke to find that he was fondling my genitals. In a sleep daze I rolled over and tried to push away, but he was fairly persistent and continued for some 15 to 20 minutes. Fortunately, he didn't go any further …

'Next morning he said, "Oh, you probably saw that I get a bit restless when I sleep" – and I just passed it off that he was doing stuff in his sleep, like sleep walking.'

With hindsight, however, Rick knows that this wasn't true. But his faith and the culture of the day left him in a quandary.

'I didn't tell anyone – I just assumed it was my fault. I thought, "I must have the sort of personality that encourages such behaviour, perhaps I'm homosexual” – and I certainly don't want that to get out.’

Rick didn't tell a soul for the next 40 years.

'The Catholic system that I was brought up in taught that if you have sex before you get married, you will go to hell. The schoolyard banter was that if you masturbate, you must be gay. And when this happened, when a grown man did this … I'm beginning to think, "Yeah, I must be".'

He never encountered Williams again. The Air Force Academy turned him down – 'but thank God for Gough Whitlam, because he became prime minister and made university free!'

When Rick had completed a degree, he did find a career with the defence forces, then married and raised a family. But the incident left a shadow.

'Looking back, I can see I don't trust people; I particularly don't trust male relationships. If someone starts to get a bit close to me as a friend, even now I put up an immediate guard, I push away. So it's very hard for me to get close male friendships. The football crowd … I find it very difficult to join.

'I failed at de facto relationships in my 20s, I was a loose cannon there for many years … I've become over sensitive to body language. I over analyse.'

When the defence forces launched the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce in 2014, Rick realised it was time to stand up: 'DART was the trigger. I decided, "I'm going to finally tell someone".' He also made a formal complaint to police, which as yet has not resulted in any action.

Although he is complimentary about the taskforce, Rick shied away from the counselling he was offered. He did accept a compensation payment and an apology, and is optimistic about the change in defence force culture regarding abuse.

'It's 10,000 per cent better today! Victims are much more likely to come forward … Back in the 1970s there was no way the culture would have encouraged me to come forward – I would have been severely berated, disciplined and told to keep it quiet.'

However, he regrets not disclosing long ago. 'One part of me says, "Maybe I've been responsible for him doing stuff to others … If back then I had pursued it, that would have stopped him".'

Now Rick is focused on protecting kids in the future. 'This should never ever happen to any young person. That's the line in the sand for any organisation – and if there is deviation either way, the culture should be that you have somewhere to go for help … We really need to nip it right now, and not let it go on and on.'

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