Content warning: this story includes details of childhood sexual abuse.
A court has heard an adult who pursued his friend’s son and sexually abused the boy while they were on a cruise ship blamed his young victim for being “95 per cent responsible” for his paedophilic behaviour.
John Ronald Brown, 49, has pleaded guilty to a charge of having a sexual relationship with a child, with court documents saying he befriended his victim’s family before committing his crimes a couple of years ago when the boy was under 16 years of age.
On Monday (18 July), psychiatrist Professor David Greenberg told the ACT Supreme Court that Brown had stated he was remorseful for his offending, but at the same time, he was still in “denial” over who was “the instigator”.
“He still believes that he is the victim, and he was taken advantage of by this child, and the child instigated and perpetrated the act on him,” Professor Greenberg said.
“He believes that this child was 95 per cent responsible.”
The court documents say one night, Brown began asking the boy about his sexual experiences. Brown also exposed his genitals to the boy and demanded oral sex. Several nights later, he asked the boy to come into a bedroom and made him perform oral sex.
Brown and the boy’s family later embarked on a Pacific cruise together. The boy was sleeping in his cabin when Brown came in, woke him up and touched the boy’s genitals.
They were still on board the cruise ship when the boy’s father saw Brown expose himself to his son.
During the period of abuse, the boy repeatedly told him to stop.
“To be told, ‘this is normal’; it is not normal, a 40-plus-year-old man taking advantage of a [young] boy is disgusting, but what is worse is that the offender believes this is normal,” the boy wrote in a statement for the court.
“It is not normal, but at the time, I believed him because I trusted him.”
The boy’s father wrote a statement in which he said he and his partner were worried about how this incident would affect their son’s future.
“This all could have been avoided if the offender used his age and maturity and considered the consequences before indulging in his own self-gratification and sexual desires before that of a minor who was too young to comprehend,” he said.
In another statement, the boy’s sister said, “because of the endless love and trust we had in the offender, this was the last thing we would have ever expected from him”.
“The offender and this offence have broken me and my family in every aspect, past, present and future,” she said.
When Crown Prosecutor Anthony Williamson asked Professor Greenberg if he thought Brown tried to present a false clinical picture to both himself and another medical expert, the professor said he was reluctant to label someone with “malingering”, but there were inconsistencies in his accounts.
There was also a fiery cross-examination with Brown’s barrister John Purnell SC, during which Professor Greenberg said he believed Brown had alcohol abuse disorder when he was abusing the boy.
In a visibly tense line of questioning, Mr Purnell asked if the disorder caused child abuse.
“Problematic alcohol use does not cause a person to abuse children,” the professor said.
In Mr Purnell’s closing submissions, he said his client now had a “stigmata that he will carry to his grave”.
His wife, who had forgiven him, and his four children, now had to deal with his offending and the “disgrace” it had brought on himself and them, he said.
Brown had also caused enormous damage to his friendship with the boy’s family, Mr Purnell said, remarking, “good friends are hard to find”.
He also said his client had tried to address his offending by giving up alcohol, participating in therapy and had shown remorse.
Mr Williamson said the offending spanned a number of weeks and involved a number of incidents, a victim under the age of 16 and “an egregious breach of trust”.
There could be “no question” of an intensive corrections order, a community-based sentenced that Mr Purnell requested, as anything less than full-time jail would be inadequate, he argued.
Justice Michael Elkaim will hand down his decision on Wednesday (20 July).
If this story has raised any concerns for you, 1800RESPECT, the national 24-hour sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line, can be contacted on 1800 737 732. Help and support are also available through The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 02 6247 2525, The Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT 02 6280 0900, Lifeline 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800. In an emergency call 000.