Fifty-eight years ago the Scoutmaster who had taught Edward Pittson skills like how to use a compass and light a campfire said he was going to teach twelve year old Edward about sex. The Scoutmaster invited him to his house and asked him to lay on the bed. The man assured the boy he had seen other Boy Scouts naked. “This is the normal way to learn about sex but don’t tell your parents what I’m doing.” Years later Pittson said, “I was sickened and disgusted by it. I wanted it to stop but I couldn’t make it stop. I had no-one I could speak to and I didn’t know what to say. He cleverly chose people who he knew wouldn’t be in a position to talk about it.” These words, spoken by this victim of a pedophile scout master, could have easily been spoken by me at exactly the same time.
In recent years the Boy Scout Association in the U.K. and Boy Scouts of America have been accused of hiding a ‘pedophile epidemic’ – with hundreds in its ranks. I wonder how many hundreds or thousands of stories like Edward’s and mine are waiting to be told?
Lawyers claim they’ve identified hundreds of previously unknown scoutmasters and volunteers who allegedly preyed on boys — and whose names were not known to the police. Derek Stapley was one of those scoutmasters. He may have got away with abusing multiple boys because instances were never reported. I may never know if he had more victims like me.
In the past boys’ complaints of abuse have most often been construed as consensual or desired and they’ve rarely been considered potential victims. A top U.K. lawyer recently spotlighted the sad fact that “There are many who have suffered sexual abuse but only a very small fraction go on to bring a case against the Scout Association.” I was one of these victims who never spoke out until now and while I’ll never know the whole truth, I clearly remember what happened to me all those years ago because it changed my life forever.
Long before the term grooming was ever heard outside of horse stables I was expertly and successfully groomed sexually by my scoutmaster Derek. I was an easy target, extremely zealous about scouting but very shy and timid, with a father who worked so much I rarely saw him. I was only ten years old and opted to join the scouts after leaving the church choir because both groups met on Fridays. I had already been pursued sexually by an adult leader of my young Christian group and thought I was escaping to a safe environment. How wrong I was!
Derek bided his time, watching me flourish with all the exciting scouting adventures he organised. Second Hailsham was a very active scout troupe; we went camping an average of sixty days a year at rustic farms in rural southern England, did a cycle camp trip to Paris and had boating adventures on the Norfolk Broads and the inland canals, plus summer trips to Luxembourg, Spain and France. With one or two buddies I did long hikes over the South Downs and through the country lanes of East Sussex and on Saturdays afternoons we played our own game of ‘shinty’ in a scout league that Derek organised . We sang a lot of corny songs traveling in our old scout van or sat around campfires eating Indian stick bread. My first pop music concert was the Rolling Stones at a scout camp in Jersey. I later drove the scout van packed with kids to see the Beatles and a multitude of sixties stars. My scouting experience gave me much to be grateful for – which makes this story all the more complex and tragic.
Thanks to Derek I learned many skills and developed leadership abilities in the scouts that really influenced my future development. I learned discipline. We wore a paramilitary uniform and had to follow some strict soldierly rules. We learned to march and stand to attention. Our knee socks had to be straight and shorts not too short and we had to sew on our own badges. We camped year round – even in the snow, and were totally independent of any homely amenities. We usually landed in a farmers field, dug latrines, wet sumps and dry sumps and built tables and other kitchen appliances from sticks and stones. We gathered wood for our fires and carried water from the nearest farm outlet. Each morning we had an inspection where our kit had to be folded and laid out neatly with us standing by. After a week or so of washing in cold water and sitting around smoky wood fires my whole kit bag would stink so much that my mum always threw everything in the wash immediately I arrived home. It was awesome fun.
Derek introduced us to large scale group games he invented. We played out in the woods, up hills, through country lanes, in historic homes and on sandy beaches. Sometimes the games ran all night and were always full of surprises. One time, after telling scary ghost stories, he invited some of us to join in a quest to see if ghosts really exist. He had us secretly creep onto a remote farm one full moon night and occupy an abandoned old Manor House. At midnight the headless ghost was supposed to walk down the stairs but earlier in the evening two ‘lead thieves’ arrived and, while in hiding, we heard them discuss their criminal plans. We decided to all jump them, tie them up and call the police. A lively skirmish ensued and before anyone got hurt we discovered it was the farmer and his son who’d joined with Derek in a plot to trick us all. I was entranced by two more similar ghost hunts where the next generation of scouts got their own ghost hunt adrenaline rush. I still don’t think any of us ever saw the ‘Headless Lady of Steine Manor.’
On Saturday mornings, for a few years, I packed wood yard cut-offs into sacks, loaded them onto the scout van and delivered them as firewood to customers on Monday evenings. It was profitable work for a teenage kid and, along with selling Christmas cards and a knot whipping contract, all organised by Derek, I was able to pay for all my scouts adventures and still have money left over in a scout account. Derek kindly suggested that I could buy my own clothes to help my parents out and that’s how the abuse began.
At age thirteen he invited me to his house to train me for some upcoming promotions. It took me a while to realise that his wife was always out of the house whenever we met. Later while explaining the meaning of the ten scout laws he deviated from number ten – “A Scout is clean in thought, word and deed.” – to ask me if I masterbated, how often, how much semen I produced and other highly embarrassing questions. He told me that young people needed sexual outlets but I should always avoid ‘gutter sex.’ Through him I had ordered some trousers with my excess income and they were delivered to his house. He asked me to make sure they fitted and watched me change, suggesting that I try them on without underwear claiming that was the fashion. I turned red as a beetroot, thinking it was a bit weird, but I was a very shy kid so complied without even questioning the intentions of my trusted scout leader and he never touched me.
These special meetings and intimate questioning sessions continued for many years and the privileges he offered me also increased. By the third pair of trousers he was talking about how the tight material highlighted my penis and began to openly stare. He started asking me about my relationship with girls knowing I was very shy and inquired if I’d ever had a boy touch me saying that it was very common at scout camps. It was soon after that he took it a step further. Under the pretext of teaching me to drive the scout go-cart he mage his next move. Whenever he decided I was driving too fast he would put his hand on my leg. I struggled with this because I wanted to go fast but then felt very uncomfortable when his hand would touch my thigh. Slowly I became more accustomed to it, the desire for speed took control and sometimes I learned to ignore his hand and just raced around the field, red-faced and confused. Then I started to get sexually aroused and the feelings got weird. Mentally I was disgusted with what he was doing to me but physically I was getting other signals.
I was promoted to become a patrol leader and then troop leader and won several District and County camping competitions with the teams I led. I progressed to become a Queen Scout and went with my mum to an award ceremony at Windsor Castle where Elizabeth II did the honours.
Under the scouting umbrella I also started a social club, booked bands and organised local rock-n-roll dances that became very popular. For a short while I managed a pop band called the ‘Zanies’ comprised of teenage scout members. They practised in the scout hall and I drove them to gigs once I got my license.
Derek had made his next moves on me when, like all teenagers, I wanted to get my driving licence but my dad was too busy working to give me regular lessons. He offered to pick me up from my home each day and let me drive his car twelve miles to my school since it was on his way to work. On the first drive he tried it again – keep my speed below 40 mph and if I go over he would put his hand on my thigh as a signal. Driving that slow is a challenge for any teen driver and so I found myself mixing the thrill of going faster with the awkward sensation of Derek’s hand. Day by day as we drove to school his hand crept a little further up my thigh until he eventually touched my penis. I can’t deny that I was sexually aroused but it could have been a chimpanzee or a dog rubbing up against me and, as a pubescent teen, I would have felt the same arousal. I knew that Derek was violating me, and a moral code of conduct, but he was so kind and generous with me that I wasn’t able to say no and reporting him to any authorities never even entered my consciousness. As a typical teenager experiencing a concoction of innocence and raging hormones I didn’t have the courage to speak out – especially about S.E.X. So it felt like I was complicit by not saying no! Derek made me believe that I was consenting so therefore it was all okay. I suffered the illusion that I has given him permission to abuse me right until I talked with a professional therapist at age 42. As a child you cannot give someone permission to abuse you. Nowadays we have the United Nations Children’s Bill of Rights but back in those days children had no knowledge about that. We were a generation told to ‘sit still and shut up until spoken too’.
I was constantly reminded of the Scout laws which included me being loyal to my scouters, obeying the orders of my leaders and smiling and whistling under all difficulties. This, and the overwhelming sense of embarrassment I suffered, all added to me never ever telling anyone about Derek’s actions. I pushed my feelings deep down inside, pretended it was all a bad dream and repressed my disgust and anger. With this level of protection Derek decided to go further and on the pretext of needing me to drive him to a new boatyard he had purchased (he later made me a director) he booked us into a bed and breakfast – with only one bed! I suffered his assault which began with creeping hands but ended with me being violated. It was not the last time this happened but I wish it had been. I felt ashamed and abused but still never had the courage to confront him or report him and so he continued.
When I was eighteen he gave me a good job as a car delivery driver, helped me buy and borrow some very cool vehicles and continued the grooming. I then moved to London and he tried to get to me even there. Luckily I enjoyed lots of girlfriends, listened to song lyrics, built my self confidence and eventually found the strength to resist him by saying “no more.” I rarely ever saw him after that but continued to feel uncomfortable in his presence and even at the mention of his name. It was a great comfort to me when I soon after moved abroad. I knew being in a different country I was finally safe from his advances. Thirty years passed before I talked with a therapist about these events and only then did I fully understand that I had been the victim. He was the adult perpetrator while I was just an innocent child. I decided to send him a letter expressing my feelings so that I could heal.
I wrote, “I am indebted to you for the many positive ways that you helped me grow but I’ve been carrying a burden that I now wish to unload. You sexually abused me as a naive and innocent young boy and crippled me in several ways. You committed a heinous crime taking advantage of my shyness and shame to satisfy your sexual needs. It should never have happened and should not have continued. For all these years I have repressed guilty feelings for having let our illicit affair go on for so long whilst I now see it was you and not me who was the one responsible and the one who was guilty. Your corruption affected me far beyond those years of abuse. I grew into adulthood with scars that haunt me to this day. You’ll never know the pain you caused me. The sad fact that this hurt came from someone I otherwise admired and respected was especially confusing and painful. You not only destroyed my faith in you but you also made it hard for me to trust other people who tried to get close to me. You thought of your own selfish needs and I suffered and am still suffering. I hate what you did to me and hope that by telling you this I can heal. It’s only by releasing my anger towards you that I can come to forgive you and focus on all the good things you did for me. I also hope that you can accept your mistake and seek forgiveness.”
I didn’t hear back from Derek so I wrote again years later saying that I would like to visit with him on my next trip to the U.K. His reply was very disturbing. “Unfortunately my wife has suffered a stroke and is still in hospital. Whether or not she will recover is still unknown. I do not know what was in your last letter as my wife opened it and then destroyed it. I do know that it caused her considerable unhappiness at the time. I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come and see us as I do not want to cause her any further pain or perhaps a relapse.” Shortly after this his wife died and two years later I did visit Derek. He appeared broken, confused and totally unable or unwilling to accept any responsibility or even offer an apology. He appeared like a depressed and very lonely old man. He told me that his son had emigrated to New Zealand and his daughter lived nearby but he never saw her. I wondered if they had been told by their mother what he’d done to me.
I wrote to him one final time in 2010 saying, “I often reflect on the many good lessons and skills I learned as a boy scout that have helped guide me through my life and I try to share the valuable experiences with my students here in Hawaii.” I asked him to send me any writings or photos that he had so I could leave my daughter with a record of my childhood. I told him I felt honoured to have been a member of the fantastic ‘Royal Blues’ in the 1960’s and thanked him for making it possible. I never heard back from him and so when I returned to the U.K. in July 2017 I went to his house. It had a ‘For Sale’ sign posted and I later discovered that he had passed away in August 2016. The opportunity to bring some resolution to our relationship issues was gone forever and I feel sad about that.
Membership of an organisation like the scouts should be a totally positive experience and leaders responsible for the safety and health of young people have a primary duty to protect them from harmful abuse. This was a task I took very seriously with my renegade circus in Hawaii. I hope that all my students had just as much fun as I did in the scouts. I’m proud that no-one had to suffer what Derek and so many others ‘scouting for boys’ inflicted on young people like me. That behaviour has to end and I hope that, by speaking out, victims everywhere can become a part of the positive change.