When Victor was 12 years old he attended a scout camp and the leader, who was also a Catholic priest, ‘interfered with the boy who was sharing my tent’. Even though ‘as a kid you don’t know what that means’ Victor realised something was wrong as his friend was crying, and that the leader ‘was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing’.
Victor stabbed the priest in the hand with a fork, ‘and I always remember that I got home, [and] I got a hiding ... for saying terrible things about a man of the cloth’.
In the 1950s Victor was sent to a base outside of Melbourne for training as a 16-year-old junior navy recruit. Conditions were harsh and treatment unfair – one of his instructors stole his pay packet and the officers would organise fights between the cadets (for which they ran a book).
One night when Victor was in the shower he was attacked by a few senior cadets, who raped him with a bottle or baton (‘I’m not sure what it was’) and left him bleeding. When he sought medical attention and disclosed what happened he was told to ‘man up’.
He went to the commander regardless and made a report, ‘and he told me the same thing ... You were a dog if you complained ... He said “you joined the navy, you’ve got to toughen up”’. Later when he did ‘man up’ and beat one of his assailants he was punished with solitary confinement.
After less than a year of service Victor was told he was ‘unsuitable’ for the position and discharged. This made him ‘feel like a criminal, not only in my eyes but also in that of my parents, friends and relatives’.
Victor became depressed when he returned home, and was ashamed for having been discharged, so moved to another town. He didn’t feel like he could tell anyone about the rape.
‘The papers came later saying that I’d been honourably discharged but found unsuitable ... That was all that was on it. And a lot of blacked out stuff ... To this day I still don’t know why it was all blacked out ...
‘I never even told my parents about the sexual part of it. In those days you didn’t talk about that sort of thing. In the 50s it was a different environment.’
Victor later married but lost his wife and their child in an accident many years ago. He told the Commissioner that over the years he has had problems with trust, and had moved around jobs a lot.
The first time he disclosed the rape to anyone (since he was discharged from the navy) was when he went through the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce Redress (DART) process recently.
He felt able to talk about his experiences with authorities after hearing other people disclose what had happened to them. ‘All these young people have been coming forward in the last couple of years and talking about this sort of stuff. And I thought bugger it, I’m 78 years old now ... When these kids in recent times started coming forward I thought damn it all, I’m going to let them know that this used to happen back in the 50s.’
Victor attended a meeting with a commander to tell his story, and felt listened to and believed. He was awarded a compensation payment by DART and given an apology. It was not his intention to seek any money, rather, he wanted his abuse acknowledged and to be awarded a defence force pension, which was not forthcoming.
He was surprised at how hard it was to talk about the abuse after so long. ‘Over the years I think I’ve been able to stash it away. The funny thing about it, is when I contacted DART and then contacted you guys [the Royal Commission], on both occasions I thought I was pretty tough till I sort of broke down on both occasions ... It’s unusual because I’m not the sort of person that does that usually. Although I find that now that I’m older I’ve become more emotional about a lot of things.’