When Scott was growing up in Western Australia, it was common for children from country areas to board at state-run hostels, adjacent to schools in towns. Harold Fletcher was the warden at the hostel where Scott was accommodated. Over three decades, Fletcher sexually abused many boys and girls, including 12-year-old Scott.
Scott told the Commissioner that Fletcher was held in high regard by the community.
‘He controlled the town, he was that powerful. To anyone over 20, he probably looked like the nicest man in the world. There was no one to tell about the abuse, and they wouldn’t have believed you if you did.’
Within a few weeks of Scott’s arrival in the late 1970s, the hostel residents went on a camping trip. Fletcher shared a tent with Scott and during the night started fondling him.
‘I didn’t know what to do. I already knew that to be accepted, you didn’t make waves. If you did, you’d get isolated, and then you were gone.’
Over the next year, Fletcher regularly came to Scott’s bed at night and tapped him on the foot. ‘That meant you had to go to his room, and that’s where he’d rape you. I couldn’t go to school one day, because of what he’d done the night before. He said, “Your brother’s coming soon, isn’t he?” I felt so terrible that I couldn’t protect my brother.’
Scott told the Commissioner that Fletcher abused many boys in his dormitory, though none of them ever spoke about it. He said Fletcher stopped abusing him after about two years. ‘Once you were a bit older, you didn’t get the tap on the foot anymore. He’d move on to the younger ones.’
About 10 years ago, Scott learned that charges of child sexual assault had been brought against Fletcher by several past residents of the hostel.
‘I was listening to the radio at work and when I heard it, I broke down. I thought, "I’ve got to fix this". It was eating me away, but I had kids and was paying a mortgage and working, and there was so much going on that I’d never had time to think about it.’
Scott called the lawyer involved in the case and disclosed that he’d also been abused. More victims came forward and two years later, Fletcher’s existing jail sentence was extended to more than 20 years.
‘He pleaded guilty after lots of bargaining. I had to drop this charge and that, but there were six of us by then. And I couldn’t bargain with what had happened to me.’
Scott’s wife told him that learning about the abuse made clear to her a lot of his past behaviour. He’d never felt comfortable touching or hugging his children and was still hesitant about showing affection to his grandson. ‘It damages something that’s your core. It’s what you are.’
In 2012, the Western Australian Government announced a limited redress scheme for people who had been abused as children in hostels. Scott applied for and was awarded the maximum compensation of $45,000. He was disappointed that the scheme tended towards a bureaucratic process and that all types of abuse seemed to be given equal weight.
Scott told the Commissioner that he was glad the court case and negotiations with the government were finalised, but he continued to struggle with strong feelings related to the abuse.
‘I feel angrier now than I did before. Why did all those people who knew what Fletcher was doing keep protecting him? It was like going against the king. I hope that it wouldn’t happen like that anymore, but in small towns it’s hard. You need to make sure there’s someone for kids to tell about what’s going on.’