Tanner described his childhood as ‘a bit of a circus’. His father was in the military and the family moved around often, meaning the children went to quite a few different schools in Australia and overseas. Tanner recalled some of the schools were fairly rough, especially ‘for a kid who hasn’t settled in the area, doesn’t know too many people’.
‘We made good friends, and then we had to move on to another school and make new friends. And that was just a continual thing.’
When his father was posted back to Australia in the mid 70s, Tanner joined a scout troop in New South Wales. He was very proud of being in the scouts and, in his early teens, was made troop leader. Soon after, the troop went on a camp where they slept in cabins.
On the first night the scout master, a young man who worked with Tanner’s father, decided to sleep in the boy’s cabin. ‘It was like he wanted me to be with him in this particular room. And wanted me on my own.
‘I didn’t see anything inappropriate about it, I just thought, “People get allocated rooms”.’
After lights out, the scout master sexually abused Tanner. ‘I was sleeping and he was trying to unzip my sleeping bag and fondle my genitals.
‘He wouldn’t leave me alone that night. I kept trying to push his hand away and he kept bringing it back, until the stage that I had to get out of the room.’
Tanner remembered the scout master saying things like, ‘It’s alright, don’t worry, we’re good friends’.
The next day the man pulled Tanner aside and told him not to tell anyone about the abuse. ‘I saw it as a threat’, Tanner said. As a result, he didn’t report the scout master. ‘If I had taken it to the Scouting Association … it would’ve been my word against his.
‘I was scared of getting into trouble, and if he got into trouble, any retribution that would come back from that. This thing scared the hell out of me. It was significant enough for me to be actually terrified of the bloke, and to keep away from him because I just sensed danger.’
Tanner described the impact of what happened to him as ‘immediate’, and believes the sexual abuse caused significant damage to his mental health. He started drinking and smoking, left school and, as soon as he was old enough, joined the military. It was one of the most important parts of Tanner’s life for nearly two decades.
But, after a serious accident which left him with chronic pain, he was diagnosed with both post-traumatic stress disorder and a major depressive disorder, and medically discharged.
Since then Tanner’s life has been tough. He’s no longer able to work and his relationship with his parents and siblings has ‘fractured’. Tanner believes most of them have trouble understanding his health issues, particularly the depression.
The ongoing physical and mental pain has also caused him to miss out on a lot of special moments with his wife and children.
Coming to the Royal Commission was very hard for Tanner. ‘In the week leading up to this, I haven’t been going too well.’ But he was determined to speak up.
‘I just wanted to see this right so other people won’t go through the same thing.’
And, after talking with the Commissioner, Tanner decided to report his abuse to the Scouting Association. ‘I don’t believe I would’ve been the only one.’
He also wanted people to understand that the mental scars, the scars that can’t be seen, often take the longest to heal.
‘I’m taking every day as it comes’, Tanner said.