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Experiences Shared

John

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

John was about 11 years old when his parents separated. 

He joined a local Scouts group, and found solace in friendships and activities. But three adult leaders exploited his need for care and attention, and sexually abused him.

John’s mother struggled to cope on her own with two children. He loved going to Scouts and developed close friendships and trusting relationships with the leaders. 

When John was in his early teens, a senior leader called Henry organised a weekend camp for the boys. He invited John to go with him the night before to set everything up. When they finished work, Henry prepared a two man tent for them both to sleep in. The leader was drinking whisky and he encouraged John to have some too.

During the night, John was woken up by Henry ‘feeling him’. The leader pretended to be asleep as he sexually abused John. When it was over, John says he left the tent ‘in turmoil’. It was dark and he did not have a key to his house, and he pictured having to wake his family up to let him in. He remembers how scared and trapped he felt, but he had no choice but to go back into the tent. 

That night was the first of many occasions over three years when Henry sexually abused him. It happened repeatedly on outings – once in a dormitory where others could have seen what was happening if they were awake.

John describes how the abuse affected how he felt about being in the Scouts: ‘It was like a sort of surrogate family ... initially that was such a great thing ... I’d found something that I loved but then suddenly there was this "thing" that was there’.

Looking back, John says he can see how his family break-up left him in need of care and attention and this made him very vulnerable.

At one point, the parent of another boy made an allegation that Henry had abused their son. John says the other Scout leaders seemed incredulous that the boy would have said such a thing. John said that there was knowledge of the allegation in the Scout troop but the allegation was dismissed. Other Scout leaders expressed concern that the child would make the allegation. The perpetrator was allowed to continue being a District leader and as far as John is aware no action was taken in response to the allegation.

The allegation was not taken any further and this convinced John that there was no point in him speaking about the abuse he was suffering. 

He also recalls a painful occasion when a number of boys, who he felt at the time must have known what Henry was doing, wrote some graffiti saying that John was gay. He felt distressed and ashamed, and remembers Henry ‘comforting’ him with a hug.

When John was in his mid teens, a married couple joined the Scout troop to help run it. They were very kind to John. He says ‘They were like parents’ and he loved being with them. They asked him to babysit for their own son.

Then one day, the husband sexually abused John. The abuse became frequent and at times the wife joined in. The couple repeatedly told John that they loved him, and he says it seemed to him that they knew about the abuse by Henry. There was a brief period when John was being abused by Henry as well as the couple. 

He remembers how conflicted and confused he felt. He had a longing to be in a loving family, and felt cared for by the couple. He had told them a lot about the unhappiness in his own family, and later the husband used this against him, threatening to repeat some of the details if John ever told anyone they had abused him.

Eventually, with great sadness, John stopped going to Scouts, losing many of the good friends he made there.

He went to university and had some therapy, but he struggled with his studies. He has found work a challenge and is often triggered by events and situations, such as other people’s accounts of child sexual abuse reported in the media. 

John feels that there needs to be more consideration of the difficulties for men and boys speaking about being abused. He says this is particularly important because so much non-recent sexual abuse is coming out. From his own experiences he believes it is especially hard for men to to talk about sexual abuse.

He also feels strongly that the culture of institutions like the Scouts, where perpetrators ‘think that they can get away with anything’, needs to be challenged.

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