Vaughn grew up with his parents and siblings in a small farming community. ‘The [school] had 50 students in it, and that was from Year 1 to Year 7. Everybody knew everybody, so it was just a very, very small community.’ His two older brothers had been members of a scouting organisation. When Vaughn was approximately 10 years old in the mid-1970s, he too joined the local scouts troop.
At first Vaughn enjoyed scouts. The small troop was managed by one scout master, Will Harrison, who was well known and liked in the community.
‘Everybody in the community knew him. Married, he had five kids of his own … Everybody trusted him. There was no reason not to ... No other adults were there.’
After joining the scouts, Harrison would often single Vaughn out and give him small gifts. The gifts started out innocently but then changed to pornographic material.
‘It started very slowly with just the casual cigarette, the casual beer. I was only young, I didn’t think anything of it … All kids in those days, their parents gave them a little bit to drink, so it wasn’t terribly uncommon … And then it moved to magazines … It went and got really dodgy really quickly.’
The other members of Vaughn’s scouting troop were never present during these exchanges. Although Harrison never told Vaughn not to disclose it, Vaughn knew his parents would punish him for smoking or looking at pornography, so he didn’t told anyone. ‘My father would’ve killed me, so he knew damn well that. My parents were pretty strict in those days. Most parents were. So it didn’t have to be said.’
By the time Vaughn was 12, Harrison had begun to sexually abuse and anally rape him. The abuse continued for approximately one year and ended after a particularly violent episode, following which Vaughn left the scouts. ‘This particular night he was particularly brutal … and that was the last time I ever seen him.’
After leaving the scouts, Vaughn felt ashamed of what had happened. He blamed himself and couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone about it. ‘These predators, they’re very good at making you feel like it is your fault.’
‘I blamed myself. I actually felt like I was too ashamed and too embarrassed myself to talk to anyone about it. And I had been for a very long time … I’d often thought afterwards there was probably more kids abused after me. And you know, if I’d said something at the time it probably would have stopped.’
Although Vaughn does not know for certain, he is confident that Harrison also abused his own children.
‘I have absolutely no doubt that they were [abused]. And I have no doubt that there was other kids in the community that were. At the time it was not the thing that was talked about.’
In the years that followed the abuse, Vaughn started to lose interest in school, preferring to spend time alone drinking and smoking marijuana. ‘I sort gave up on school a bit. By the time I finished Year 9, I was smoking pot. In those days it was easy to get … I’d smoke pot half the time at school. By the time I got halfway through Year 10, I’d already left school, started working full-time just to support me so I could smoke pot … When I look back now I see that I’d actually detached myself from society in general. I’d become a complete loner.’
As an adult, Vaughn sought manual labour jobs where he would have little or no interaction with anyone else. He married and had children, but after disclosing the abuse to his wife she used the information against him and told his parents before he was ready. With Vaughn unable to trust anyone, the marriage ended badly. ‘I really didn’t do very well in relationships. I just didn’t trust people.’
For many years Vaughn oscillated between working hard and blowing all his money on alcohol and illicit substances. ‘I think the last big bender was the one that made me realise. I was 27, 28. I went through $60,000 in three months, and I thought, nah I think that’s enough of that … You can’t keep going getting drunk, taking drugs and blocking out, and making out it doesn’t exist. Because at the end of the day you won’t have a future.’
Eventually Vaughn met and married his second wife, who has been a supportive and calm influence in his life. ‘Lizzie’s been a huge help for me.’ He drinks very little and no longer takes drugs.
Vaughn refuses to see himself as a victim. He believes that children at risk would benefit from an anonymous helpline to obtain information in a safe way and that they’d then ask for help if they needed it. He also believes potential perpetrators should have an anonymous helpline they can call if they think they may be at risk of offending. He recommends increased education in schools, including a program that openly discusses male to male sex.
Vaughn has never sought counselling as he finds that having a supportive partner is all the therapy he needs. He has never sought financial compensation but may consider doing so in the future. He has hesitated for a long time about reporting Harrison to the police as he is concerned that Harrison’s family, who still live in the community, would be adversely affected, particularly if they themselves had been victims of their father.
‘It was only until the last probably 12 months that I stopped blaming myself … I realised that it’s not normal for adult men to want to have sex with boys. It’s just not bloody normal.’