Dalleen and Nikita Gibbons want Scouts Victoria to change the way they treat child victims of abuse. (Lauren Day)
A former Scout leader has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for grooming, an indecent act and sexual penetration of a child under 16, as well as possessing child pornography in relation to a young female Scout.
In sentencing, Judge Sue Pullen said both Nikita Gibbons and her parents had suffered considerably as a result of the offences and that perpetrator Michael Schulz was “not remorseful”.
‘We thought Scouts was going to be good for her’
Nikita’s mother Dalleen Gibbons said she had put her faith in the organisation and Schulz.
“We thought Scouts was really going to be good for her. She loved her Scouts,” she told 7.30.
“I used to say to Michael, ‘she’s going to the Scout troop on the weekend and I’m glad she’s safe, I know she’s safe when she’s with you’.
“He said, ‘yeah she’ll be safe with us’. But she wasn’t safe.”
Nikita Gibbons said Schulz groomed her with text and Facebook messages for months.
At an unsanctioned camp in the Victorian countryside, ostensibly to help her catch up on her Scout work, things escalated.
“I can’t remember what happened on that exact camp during the night,” she told 7.30.
“I asked him the next day what had happened and he said, ‘you were so drunk that I could have taken advantage of you’, and when I asked him, ‘did you?’ he didn’t actually answer the question.”
Clear breach of Scouting’s child protection policies
Nikita didn’t tell anyone what she thought had happened, but a jury would later find Schulz guilty of an indecent act on a child.
The court also heard that on two other occasions Schulz had sexually penetrated the then-14-year-old.
The last incident was on a hiking camp at the Great Ocean Road, where Nikita was somehow able to travel alone in the car with Michael ahead of the group.
“He’d have sex with me after I’d been drinking, straight away, and then it would be put up the tents and it was almost like straight away, like nothing happened at all.”
There were other leaders attending the camp but, in a statement, Scouts Victoria said Schulz did not have approval to travel alone with Nikita and it was a clear breach of Scouting’s child protection policies.
Scouts Victoria tried to ‘shuffle me around’
Michael Schulz started grooming then 14-year-old Nikita Gibbons in late 2016, just as Scouts NSW was giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
At the time, the Royal Commission heard the Scouting movement had a long history of child sex abuse allegations and a lot of work to do to effectively respond to victims.
Nikita Gibbons says the way Scouts Victoria responded when the abuse by one of its leaders was uncovered compounded her pain and confusion.
“No apologies, nothing,” she said.
“We sent them emails, we sent them my victim impact statements.”
Nikita says Scouts Victoria wouldn’t allow her to return to her original troop.
“I could go up to another group, so they were just trying to shuffle me around, I think, so they didn’t have to deal with me being in that group and having to be able to deal with a child that had gone through that.”
Dalleen Gibbons said it felt like victim-blaming.
“It was like you’re just as guilty as what he is, which is not true, she was a child,” she said.
“That was really hard, that was like a double abuse from our point of view.”
‘It’s a bit late for an apology’
Nikita Gibbons is now 16 and hoping that time of her life will ‘fade away’ soon. (Lauren Day)
Scouts Victoria declined 7.30’s requests for an interview but in a statement said it found no evidence that any leaders told Nikita she couldn’t return to Scouts.
The organisation said she was, in fact, encouraged to return and did attend some meetings with a different Scout troop and that she actively participated in Scouts until earlier this year.
Scouts Victoria also said it had legal advice not to discuss the matter while it was under investigation but arranged a meeting with the family immediately after the trial concluded to apologise.
Nikita was upset with the time it took for that meeting to be arranged.
“It’s a bit late for an apology,” she said.
But after the meeting, she said she was grateful for the apology.
‘I just want to have this part of my life fade away’
Now 16, Nikita Gibbons is recovering through a combination of counselling and equine therapy.
“I’ve always loved horses,” she said.
“We’ve done a lot of work with power boundaries so, like, a horse is far more powerful than you, it’s so much bigger and if it wanted to push you over or kill you it will, but you need to kind of learn boundaries on how to not make that happen.
“And if I had’ve had that before this whole incident started, I think I would have felt a little bit better.”
She’s also training to become a hairdresser.
“I really want to work in a salon and just have this part of my life just kind of fade away and not have to worry about it,” she said.
“That happened in my past, what happened happened and now I want to just move on with everything.”
It’s rare for young survivors of sex abuse to agree to be identified in the media but Nikita and her parents said they wanted to share their story in the hope that Scouts Victoria would change the way it treated child victims of abuse.
“I hope they learn just not to treat people like that. They need to learn how to deal with it and communicate properly and just be caring for the child,” Nikita said.
Scouts Victoria said it was discussing potential compensation with the family and continually reviewing its child protection processes.