As a young teenager Zac felt distant and detached from his own family. Both of his parents worked long hours and didn't spend much time with him. ‘It was a good family but there were definitely issues within it. We did go to counselling but it did more damage than good.’
In the late 1990s Zac began attending a scout group in southern Sydney, and he soon met a man called Michael Thompson. Although he was not the group’s leader, Thompson would attend meetings regularly and ‘he’d hang around myself, he’d hang around a few of the other kids’.
Thompson was in his 50s, and began grooming Zac almost immediately. They had similar interests in outdoor activities, and Thompson provided the male figure Zac felt was missing in his life. He knew that Zac was gay, and a few weeks after they met he started showing him child pornography and other sexually explicit material, as well as providing money and alcohol.
Thompson soon initiated sexual activity with Zac, including fondling, masturbation and penetration. This continued to happen approximately twice a week for the next three years, until Zac ended it. Zac knew that Thompson was also interacting in similar ways with other boys.
‘He’d try and get me to get my friends to come over, or he’d try and get me to become sexually active with my friends and then either film it for him, or bring them over so he could then do the same thing ... There were a few occasions when he had another fellow about the same age as me over and he’d try to do stuff in a group activity.’
Thompson told Zac not to tell anyone about this abuse, as Thompson could get into trouble, so he would make up excuses about where he had been. Zac’s parents have since told him they suspected ‘something was happening,’ but Zac does not like to believe this as they did nothing to protect him at the time.
Zac’s mental health declined shortly after the abuse began, and he began self-harming. His schoolwork, sporting activities and social interactions also suffered. He disclosed the abuse to the counsellor at his private boys’ school during this period. She said that if he did not tell her the name of the person who had abused him or where it was happening, then she did not have to take any action. This encouraged him not to disclose further details of his abuse.
‘She told me they wouldn’t get in trouble if I didn’t say it ... That is probably for me the worst part of this whole process, was this one person who should have been just trying and trying and trying to get that information, didn’t, and that upsets me the most.’
Zac later told his foster mother (who gave him a ‘safe place’) about this abuse, and decided to report the matter to the police. He spoke to a sexual assault counsellor, who explained his options and contacted police on his behalf, and he was interviewed by the Joint Investigation Response Team (JIRT). He found this process very confusing, as it was not fully explained to him what information would be useful to provide. As a result he did not detail the full extent of his abuse in his statement. Although Zac knew of at least 150 possible charges against Thompson related to his abuse, only a few were eventually laid.
Zac also found taking the matter to court difficult. The legal process took nearly three years to complete, and as he was still a teenager Zac found it hard to understand the language and procedures. He does not feel his experiences were accurately reflected or validated by the court process. There were a few other complainants, and, because of similarities in the allegations, the presiding judge considered the process as all part of the one trial.
Thompson entered a guilty plea, and was sentenced to a number of years in jail. Zac was surprised to find that more time had been allocated for Thompson’s abuse of another complainant, which happened on a few occasions, than for the abuse against him which had happened many more times over a number of years.
Following Thompson’s conviction, Zac took legal action against the Scouts. He was awarded large sums of money from the Scouts and from Thompson personally. The civil process was much easier and quicker than the criminal proceedings, as it felt more like a ‘business transaction’ and was assisted by the results of the criminal trial.
Zac has an ongoing mistrust of people, difficulties with social relationships, and now lives alone with his pets. His experiences of abuse also made it more difficult for him to enter his chosen profession.
‘I’m accepting that it’s always going to be there with me. I think in some ways it made me a better person, and it some ways it made me a worse person ... At the end of the day, I’ll go home to my dogs and I’ll go for a walk, and life will be back on track.’