‘This has influenced my entire life’, Robert told the Commissioner. ‘I’m only discovering now just how much an effect this has had on me.’
In the late 1970s, when he was 15 years old, Robert was sexually abused by a chaplain at the navy base where he served as a junior recruit. For most of his life he felt ashamed and guilty that he’d ‘allowed it to happen’.
‘I thought I was a man. I was in the navy. I was being trained to shoot and kill and all that sort of thing, and I didn’t see this coming. When he offered me a drink I thought it was being nice … I didn’t realise it till I started talking about it that that’s pretty much a classic sort of a grooming technique. I’m 55. I was 53 when I realised it. Again it just makes so much sense. And these people are so damn good at what they do that other people don’t realise it.’
At the time of the abuse, Robert felt that it was impossible to report the chaplain’s behaviour to anyone. Navy protocol mandated that complaints had to be made to the chaplain – which was obviously a no-go – or to a superior within your own division. That route was also impossible because of navy culture at the time.
‘Homosexual activity was completely frowned upon and we were told that anything like that and we would have been kicked out of the navy straight away. So I basically had to suck it up and deal with it as best I could, which was smoking and drinking basically … I’d get myself well and truly plastered.’
Robert grew into a violent, quick tempered man who didn’t trust anyone. He could go from ‘zero to fisticuffs in nought seconds flat’.
For decades he used anger as his coping mechanism, refusing to acknowledge that he needed any help. Then in the early 2010s he gave evidence to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART).
As well as providing him with a reparation payment of $50,000, DART connected Robert with a counsellor. Despite his habits of anger and resistance, Robert found that as the counselling sessions progressed he encountered more and more ‘lightbulb moments’.
He’s continued the counselling on a regular basis ever since and has made ‘some great steps. Much more than I thought was ever possible’. He’s come to accept that he’s ‘much more broken’ than he realised, and he’s been learning practical techniques to manage his anger.
His wife, who attended the Royal Commission session with him, has been his strongest support and said she was proud of how much he’d achieved.
Robert can’t remember the chaplain’s name. Still, he’s contemplating reporting the man to police and asked the Royal Commission to make a referral for him. This marks a significant development for Robert. When DART asked him if he wanted to approach police in the late 2000s he declined.
‘I was finding it really difficult to write my statement, and at the time I didn’t want to be dragged through the court process … having seen many cross-examinations of rape victims I didn’t want to put myself through that. However, the circumstances have changed now that I’ve been going through the counselling and I’ve told my story quite a few times and I would be happy if it was to go the police now.’
In the meantime he’s using his experience to help other victims of child sexual abuse.
‘I’m learning a lot more about it now that I’m being more open about it myself. And people are opening up to me. I’ve had people on the phone to me an hour, an hour and a half at a time, bawling their eyes out because something that I’ve said has made the connection with them and they just want to talk to somebody that they know is going to believe them.’