As a kid I couldn’t trust the adults entrusted to guide me
Toronto Star journalist Raymond Beauchemin was 11 years old when his #MeToo experience began. The sexual abuse by an assistant scoutmaster would go on for four years.
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I was among the youngest kids in Grade 6 in my school in western Massachusetts, so when my friends who’d turned 11 over the summer left Cubs for Boy Scouts, I felt left behind.
I remember friends talking animatedly about a camping trip in early September. I desperately wanted to go, but I hadn’t had my crossing-over ceremony from Webelos, the highest level in Cubs.
Don’t worry about it, said one friend, a year older and already a Boy Scout. “Bill said you can come.”
The rules of admittance to Boy Scouts stipulated a boy could join at either Grade 6 or age 11. Since I was now in Grade 6 and my birthday was around the corner, there was no reason I couldn’t join the troop now, Bill said. “When’s your birthday?” “September 18.” “Really?! Mine’s September 16,” he said. Bill, I learned, was one of the troop leaders, an assistant scoutmaster.
It wasn’t an official Scout outing anyway, he said. It was just a bunch of the guys going away for a weekend.
Sounded good. I didn’t question it. What studious, obedient, Franco-American altar boy in 1972 questioned anything?
And that’s how my “me too” experience began — one that would go on for four years.
Online, many women around the world have shared “me too” experiences since the sexual abuse accusations levelled against the Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein. The stories are about rape, sexual assault and harassment, unwanted sexual touching. The sheer number of testimonies is overwhelming.
Several of the stories I’ve read involved abuses or harassing incidents that occurred when the victim was a child. Which prompts the question anytime a priest, coach or scoutmaster is in the headlines for the wrong reason: Where were the adults?
I’ve changed Bill’s name for legal reasons. In the mid-1990s, 20 years after the events and in the middle of the Catholic Church sex scandal roiling in Boston and elsewhere, I drove home to Massachusetts, where my parents still live, and told them what had happened to me between ages 11 and 15. They were floored; they’d thought I’d come down from Montreal because I needed money. Hell, if I’d needed money, I’d have called. Child abuse you need to talk about face to face. They’d had no idea, they said. Of course, they didn’t. That would have required awareness and attentiveness. Afterward, I went to talk to a state trooper. I have shared the details of my sexual abuse with few people, until now.
I did write a novel 20 years ago in which episodes were fictionalized, but it remains unpublished. In a rejection letter, one publisher wrote it was not believable that three friends could have been abused by three men in one town. Perhaps in a novel it would have stretched credulity. But, in my hometown, the Catholic funeral home director attempted to molest me, when I was in Grade 8. Ten years later, he was convicted of owning child pornography and abusing a boy in the parish. As well, there were whispers about the “closeness” a priest exhibited toward the altar boys, but no charges were ever filed.
Again, where were the adults? I suppose they were trusting the other adults among them. Including, Bill, the assistant scoutmaster.
The abuse began slowly. He had to gain my trust. In fact, over time, Bill had had to gain the trust of many people: nuns, priests, fellow scout leaders, parents (his own and mine), anyone in authority who could have questioned the time and attention he spent on boys 10 years younger than he. I don’t know what he told them. I only know what he told me. Because to gain confidence — mine and the adults’ — he had to shape a narrative.
Bill’s story, as much as I can reveal: He lived a five-minute walk from my home. We went to the same church. He graduated from the high school I would attend. His best friend at school and I shared the same name. He was in the military. He went to the local state university. He went to officer training in the summer. He coached sports. He was an assistant scoutmaster and promised to guide me toward the Eagle rank, by the time I was 13 even, just like our senior patrol leader, a super-cool kid we all looked up to.
I don’t remember the first time. I do remember being in a cabin and other kids, two, three, four years older, joking around, calling each other “mo bait” and “gay bait” and other teasing and having not a clue what it all meant.
Do you want to know?
They’re not talking about you.
I was so young when he reached into my sleeping bag to touch me, I’d never had an erection. And when I did, and he stroked me, there was no ejaculate.
Don’t worry. It’ll come.
The cabin. A local camporee. The house he shared with his parents (Bill? Who’s downstairs with you? It’s Ray, we’re going over a merit badge.) The weeklong summer hike along the Appalachian Trail (We’re going to be sleeping in the open. I won’t be able to visit you at night). Christmas break winter survival.
Have you ever done what we do by yourself? It’s OK, you know.
In bed. In the shower. With soap.
He asked if I ever dressed up like a girl.
He suggested it would be OK if I had sex with my sisters. I can picture Bill and I on the edge of my bed in my room, my Scout handbook on my lap. We could see the girls on the couch watching television. They were 8 and 2.
I was allowed to go on my first winter survival at 12 even though the age to participate — learning to survive in the woods — was 13. We got away with this because Bill explained to the other Scouts that I was the gopher. As in “go for” water, “go for” firewood. I did kitchen prep and the cleanup. The water’s not hot enough, he said, before adding more, fresh from the stoves. We were alone in the cabin at night when the kids were sleeping in the snowhuts and lean-tos they’d built.
Do you want to know how boys do it with boys or how boys do it with girls?
Then lie down on your back.
I see his face. That black, high-and-tight military haircut. The dimpled chin and the thick shadow of beard. The dark eyes. I hear his voice. Beauch.
He wrote me from boot camp, encouraging letters about my progress in Scouting. Signed, A.F.F. A friend forever.
And yet, here’s the thing. I didn’t know any of this was wrong. The sister thing, yeah, I was pretty sure that was not just gross but going-to-hell bad. Everything else? Part of Bill’s story to me was that this was all part of my education.
Do you want to know what it feels like to have a mouth on your penis?
I don’t know how I answered. I just can’t remember.
“Sexual interference” seems an odd name for a crime. But it’s not. Children are meant to grow, to discover their sexual selves, have adventures, find pleasures, on their own.
The interference continues. A shard of memory cuts into a thought and bleeds me of whatever mood I’m in. Every Scout leader, coach, actor or priest in headlines for sex assault is a drumming reminder. Bill’s interference affected every sexual relationship that followed, made me question my sexuality and gender, and left me with a lifetime of anger, doubt, anxiety and depression. Every time I sink my hands into the dishwater, I hear him tell me it’s not hot enough.
The interference continues because of the complex nature of our “friendship.” From a Scout leader, I couldn’t have asked for more. He paid attention to me at a time when my parents didn’t. Much of what I know about the outdoors came from him. Swimming, chess. He encouraged me to run competitively. Also, what Bill did to me physically wasn’t just educational. It was pleasurable. He masturbated me and I him and we came together and it was physically exciting. But it was wrong. I didn’t realize what Bill did was a crime until those Boston priests were sued; until, as an adult, I had the distance to think about how events in my younger self’s life shaped me into the man I became.
I suppose I wouldn’t be who I am if these things hadn’t happened, and I don’t want to spend my life arguing with my past. I’ve been married for almost 25 years to a loving woman with an understanding soul. I have a wonderful daughter, stepdaughter and grandchildren. I’ve worked in journalism, a profession I deeply respect, all my adult life. I function in the world in a way many adult survivors of child sexual abuse have not.
When I reported the incidents 20 years ago, the trooper said it would be difficult to prove my accusations. Too much time had passed. And who would the jury believe: me, or a former serviceman? But he’d look into it anyway, he said. He visited Bill. The trooper told me Bill had quit the military, was living in the basement of his parents’ home and working as a nurse in a local hospital. Bill denied everything.
Maybe he’d forgotten. But I don’t think so.
I remember, and this story is mine to tell. Not his.