Dianne first visited the youth refuge near her home in New South Wales to see her friend who was staying there. As well as having residential facilities, the refuge was a central point for teenagers to meet and get involved in activities, especially those organised by youth worker, Mark Bellmore. Over a period of five years from the late 1990s, Dianne was a frequent visitor to the refuge and often went away on trips organised by Bellmore.
Bellmore sourced state-government funds to run a program for young people to make films and participate in harm minimisation education. But no films were ever made and over a period of many years Bellmore introduced numerous girls, including Dianne, to a variety of drugs, including ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. After supplying and administering drugs, Bellmore would then sexually abuse the girls.
‘When you’re a young kid you don’t really know what’s going on’, Dianne said. ‘You just sort of trust that people in those sorts of positions are telling you the truth and you’re just gullible. And when you’ve got older girls that you sort of look up to and that are a few years older and they’re like, doing it too, it just seems like it’s all normal and it’s all right.’
Dianne told the Commissioner that Bellmore’s strategy was to enlist older girls in inviting younger ones into the refuge after which they’d be introduced to drugs and sexually abused. She later recognised the process of grooming that Bellmore employed with most girls, which involved buying them gifts, writing personal and flattering letters, and isolating them from their families and others.
As a 15-year-old, Dianne was on a trip away when she was injected with heroin by Bellmore. She passed out and when she regained consciousness, found him sexually assaulting her. This began a pattern of abuse where Bellmore would tell Dianne they had a special relationship and that it was to be kept secret. He regularly supplied drugs and assaulted her, and never initiated sex when Dianne was conscious and sober.
As a result of the drug use, Dianne became addicted to heroin. Many of her friends from the refuge became sex workers or died in later years from overdoses. Despite the numbers of girls abused by Bellmore and the years he worked at the refuge, Dianne said no adult or external department ever questioned or supervised his work.
‘I see why it happened … when they’re hiring people who don’t have their needs looked after and they are in a situation where they pretty much just have free rein to manipulate things in whatever way suits their personal ego agenda in that time.’
Dianne said there didn’t appear to be any policies or procedures in place for workers in the refuge, so Bellmore could use petty cash to buy cigarettes and alcohol, and he was able to accompany girls on his own in the refuge’s van.
At 18, Dianne left the area but was pursued at her new address by Bellmore, who she thought was trying to keep tabs on her and ensure she didn’t talk about what he’d been doing. For years, she was addicted to heroin but eventually completed a treatment program and hasn’t used drugs since.
In the late 2000s, Dianne was having a conversation with someone who’d also been at the refuge. She learned that Bellmore was still working with young people and the story recounted was identical to that of 10 years earlier: namely, that he was receiving government funds to make films with young people, and he was still accessing younger girls through an older intermediary.
As a result of the conversation, Dianne went to NSW Police and made a statement, an experience she described as positive. ‘The detectives were amazing, they were really, really supportive.’
Bellmore was charged with supplying drugs to minors and sexual abuse but was convicted only on the former charge. He received a sentence of 18 months’ weekend detention. Dianne received victim’s compensation of $30,000 and wasn’t required to attend court.
‘To be honest with you, I still want to sue the youth refuge’, she said. ‘It wasn’t enough money; I didn’t get enough compensation. Like, what I realise now is that nobody ever pays any attention to anything unless they’re financially held accountable for that. They need to be held accountable and there needs to be like a penalty for hiring people, for paying people money to let them use government money to sexually abuse people. Like, it’s just disgusting.’
Dianne hoped other victims of Bellmore’s would come forward. If they did, she’d consider joining them in a class action.
‘I hope more people come forward and start to realise that it actually wasn’t their fault and they weren’t just bad, troubled girls, that they were coming up against somebody who was a predator, who was calculated, who was manipulative and knew the system and knew what they could do to get what they wanted.’
The impact on her life had been enormous, Dianne said. ‘Pretty much, he just screwed up my entire life. If I had, like, not encountered him, I’m sure I would have been working consistently from when I was 18, I would probably would have like, achieved a lot better at uni, I probably would be in a stable job, probably earning a good amount of money. I would probably be married, you know what I mean …
‘I say my life is totally screwed because of this, but I also think that I could be dead, I could be still a drug addict, I could be into prostitution. Like, I’ve continued my education, I’ve done the best I can, and compared to a lot of people my age, my life is stuffed. But if I think about it in another way, I think I’ve actually done pretty good.’