Stan remembers well the day he started as an armed forces recruit in the 1960s. As he and other junior recruits got off the bus, a great show was made by their superiors of padlocking the gate behind them.
As Stan recounted in a written statement, the Petty Officer said to them ‘You can see the gates are now chained and locked, the life you led out there ceased today. For the next 12 months your families don't exist, from today I'm your father, mother, brother and worst fucking enemy’.
This set the scene where senior staff had ‘free rein’ over the boys. They had access and ‘could come and go as they pleased’.
After a long day which would typically include physical and verbal abuse, Stan was often pulled out of his bed by senior staff.
‘I used to lay awake at night, listening to the boards move on the floor.’
The sexual abuse included rape and bondage. ‘It was never one on one.’ There were always adult staff witnessing it.
They threatened death. They threatened castration. They named Stan’s family members and threatened they would kill them. He was 15 years old and these were his first sexual experiences.
Stan noted that the difference between the abuse that occurred in his day in the armed forces, and more recent events, is that the staff were the perpetrators. He recalls no child-on-child abuse at that time. ‘They totally went against all the things we now call duty of care.’
Stan managed to ‘switch off’ during the day and do his work. However his grades plummeted, much to the disappointment of his parents. Five years after joining the navy, and after war service, he was discharged for ‘chronic anxiety’.
He started smoking heavily as a cadet. This continued until he had a heart attack in his 20s. After that he quit the habit. Stan feels blessed that he saw his children grow up.
Speaking about his fellow recruits, he said ‘I’ve seen so many of these guys drink themselves to death’.
There have been many times in Stan’s life when he’s experienced depression and taken medication for it. He would often wake in the night as though fighting people off. Recently he told his children about his sexual abuse. They had always known him as a ‘moody character’.
He worked in a number of fields, but has found his medical discharge a barrier to getting certain government jobs. He obtained his naval records, but they were heavily redacted.
Stan even had to fight to be acknowledged as a veteran with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. As he wrote in his statement, ‘After an exhausting battle that cost me health wise and with the loss of my marriage, I won my Gold Card in 2003. My anxiety, depression, panic attacks and general health was hugely impacted by this battle’.
Recently Stan engaged in a redress scheme and was awarded a payment and a letter of apology from the Captain who had listened to him, indicating that the abuse was the worst he’d heard. However, the payment came with caveats as to how it could be spent, which Stan feels undermines the purpose of reparation.
Stan now lives on a pension and is on a lot of medication. Because of the divorce he also has a mortgage.
He feels there’s not enough public awareness of sexual abuse in the armed forces. None of his perpetrators have been held to account.
‘My life was destroyed. Why would these other people … [be] allowed to receive accolades?’