I found this newspaper advertisement in a recipe book my mum kept full of clippings of things she wanted to cook. It’s from 1975. It caught my eye for two reasons. It shows how our attitudes have changed, and it struck me as oddly relevant to my life at the time.
While the #MeToo movement has highlighted the need for women (in particular) to be treated with more respect and dignity, things were different in 1976. What we would consider sexual abuse or exploitation was a “normal” part of the landscape.
When I was 15, I used to walk home from school through the local shopping centre. I could take one of two routes. Either through the arcade (quicker) or up to the end of the shopping strip (more to see). This longer walk went past a butcher’s shop. The butcher, Bill, was a man somewhere between 35 and 40. He used to park is brown Porsche Carrera out the front of his store. I would sometimes slow down to look at it. He must have noticed me, and he would wave and smile. After a few weeks, the wave and smile turned into him coming out to say a few words, and then eventually me going in to chat with him. It all started pretty innocently. Then the talk started getting a bit risque. Flirting, I thought, and I was flattered that an older man with a Porsche would pay any attention to me, a silly school girl in a short skirt. It eventually became outright sex talk, and I felt excited! He was a sophisticated guy, and I felt so grown up! I knew it was “naughty,” but that was the risky part of it, the part that made it fun.
So I kept going by and talking to him. It’s hard to remember the time frame now, but he asked me out. I was over the moon. Can you imagine how sophisticated I felt! I didn’t tell my mother, but my best friend’s mum was in on it, and she didn’t seem to think it was inappropriate. She gave me no warnings. There was no talk of the age gap beyond “Wow…he’s an older man paying attention to you; be flattered.” Mrs. J helped me get ready in a tight black dress and lace-up boots. I looked fabulous in a 70’s kind of way!
He picked me up from their house, and off we sped in the Porche. First, to a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills, where Bill winked at the creepy-looking maître d’. The maître d’ ran his eyes over me in a way that stopped my breath. This was my first inkling that things were a little more sinister than my naivety had allowed. The nervous, excited butterflies in my gut began to be replaced by more anxious thoughts. I didn’t have a Plan B. Plan B’s were not a thing in 1976; I had no money. I was a long way from home.
He bought a bottle of wine and poured me a glass. The drinking age is 18. The restaurant was breaking the law. “No problem,” said Bill “the owner is my friend.” After dinner, he suggested a movie. Sounded good to me, perhaps a little tipsy.
We went to Oxford Street in Sydney. These days a hip place with lots of bars that cater mostly to the LGBTIQ crowd, back then, about the only place you could see X-rated movies in Sydney. As we walked in, he handed the guy at the door some cash, presumably, a bribe since it was a restricted premise. We sat in the dark seats, I looked around, and I realised there were not many other women there. The “action” started on screen. I felt sick! Uncomfortable. Scared. I said I didn’t want to watch anymore and would he take me home.
I’ll give this to Bill; he never tried anything I hadn’t said yes to. He never tried to kiss or touch me. We drove home from Sydney to my place. The one hour trip took less than 30 minutes. He drove hard and fast in that Porsche, certainly exceeding the speed limit. He didn’t speak. I could sense he was angry.
From then I always went home via the arcade. I never saw Bill again. I had emerged unscathed.
More than forty years on I reflect on this and it stands out so clearly he was a paedophile. That he had been grooming me from the beginning. Starting with slightly rude jokes and working up to porn. Thankfully, he had some principles. It could have ended very differently. I don’t recall hearing words like paedophile then. Sure, there were creepy guys you avoided, but as a 15-year-old, I didn’t feel like a target. I hadn’t heard of books like Lolita. It just wasn’t a “thing”. Not in my world anyway.
“Things” have changed. The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse shows this behaviour was rampant and people either turned a blind eye or didn’t think it was an issue in the first place.
I don’t characterise myself as a victim. I willingly, although naively, put myself in a place I should have avoided. In retrospect, I am concerned my friend’s mother did nothing but encourage me. I am glad to think this is less likely to happen now.
(Apologies to you mum! Here’s another story you didn’t know about!)
I wrote this post in response to the trial and later sentencing of Cardinal Pell; Australia’s highest ranking priest and a man who has caused misery to many. If this post has caused you any distress, I urge you to seek help through some of the agencies that have been set up for this express purpose. Just because it happened a long time ago, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
These services may help: