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Clarissa's story

‘I wanted it to be a relationship because I was scared he was going to leave. He had been taking care of me.’

Clarissa grew up outside a country town in New South Wales. Her parents were financially and emotionally stressed because they were building a house which took several years to complete. Even when the house was complete and her family moved in, her parents didn’t stop fighting.

In high school, Clarissa was academically gifted and excelled at sports, representing her school in competitions. Her older sister was also good at sports and Clarissa was familiar with her sister’s team and coach. The coach noticed Clarissa’s talent and encouraged her to join a new team and sporting club.

In the early 1990s when she was 12, Clarissa started playing a new sport with her sister’s team. She excelled and then went on to win a state title, something that annoyed her sister.

When she was 13, the coach moved to another state. It was then that Clarissa came into contact with new coach Samuel Harvey, who was aged in his 40s. He seemed charming and very interested in Clarissa’s sporting potential and success.

By the time she was 15, Clarissa’s parents had separated. Her mother went overseas for a holiday while her older sister was completing her Higher School Certificate, and this left Clarissa to take care of her younger sibling. During this time, Clarissa’s father ‘wasn’t around much’.

Clarissa told Harvey of her situation and he immediately involved himself in Clarissa’s life. She relied on him to take her to competitions and help her with day-to-day life. She recalls staying over at his home so he could take her to training and he made sure she was eating the right food. Clarissa said his attention made her feel special and she enjoyed his company.

After her 16th birthday, Clarissa was sexually abused by Harvey. In the period following, he abused her at his house, the sporting club and at a hotel, after she’d competed in another state. Clarissa recalls Harvey booking one hotel room for them to share and him sleeping in her bed instead of the adjacent single bed. He messed up the sheets of the other bed the following morning to make it look like he’d slept in it.

Harvey told Clarissa that he’d have to move back to his hometown if she spoke to anyone about their ‘relationship’. She felt he was the only one she could turn to because her parents weren’t around, and although often stressed, she also felt that she was in control of the situation.

‘He made me feel like I had seduced him – I was the one that was in control, I was the one in power. He’d say, “You’re a dangerous woman, you could get me into a lot of trouble. If you ever told anyone I’d go to jail”.’

By the time she was 18, everyone at the sporting club knew about Clarissa’s contact with Harvey. She felt pressure to perform well at sport and to complete her school work with high grades. She felt depressed and was experiencing panic attacks. She began self-harming and often had suicidal thoughts. Unable to cope, Clarissa told her mother about what was happening with her and Harvey, and shortly after this, went to see a counsellor.

When Clarissa moved to a different town to go to university, she continued playing sport and joined a representative team. She was still in contact with Harvey and continued to see him on and off for several years, and believes this affected her training. In her mid-20s while in another country, Clarissa had a breakdown.

‘I said to the [counsellor], “I want out. I just want to get out of here”.’

On her return to Australia, Clarissa retired from her sport and ended contact with Harvey. She had ‘icky feelings’ and didn’t want anything more to do with him. She met another man and told Harvey not to contact her. She never heard from him again.

Throughout adulthood, Clarissa has experienced periods of depression and anxiety. She reported that she lacks confidence and has issues with being in control. She still doesn’t understand why no one in authority asked about her contact with Harvey or questioned why her mental health had deteriorated. She also struggled to comprehend why her friends and family believed the relationship she had with Harvey was ‘okay’.

Clarissa never reported Harvey to police or the sporting institution. In recent years, she approached the police for advice but was told that ‘there was nothing to be done’.

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