Ellen has a photo of herself at the age of nine wearing a big smile. It was the early 1970s ‘and I was so happy’. Two years later a man called Dave Winton ‘wrecked it, just took everything’ when he began sexually abusing Ellen and continued to do so for the next two years.
Thirty years later, Ellen’s struggle to have Winton brought to justice caused as much damage to her as the original abuse.
Winton and his wife Simone, both young and good-looking, were a golden couple in town when Ellen was a kid. He ran a sports club for girls and Ellen and her best mate Alicia were enthusiastic members.
Alicia came to support Ellen when she talked to the Royal Commission. Ellen brought a statement that outlined how Winton had sexually abused her, regularly forcing her to have oral sex with him in his parked car.
Ellen told no one about the abuse at the time. Her father was a big man and he ‘would have literally killed him if he had’ve known. With his bare hands’.
Winton continued coaching her as though nothing was happening. Alicia suspected something was wrong. She remembered ‘Dave used to tell me that he loved [Ellen] and he was just waiting for the time was right and he was going to marry her’.
The final time Winton abused Ellen was during a club sleepover.
‘Just as we were going to bed, Alicia and I were together at the end, he pulled [the sleeping bags] apart and stuck his in the middle. And no one said anything, not even his wife.’
Winton then put his hand inside Ellen’s sleeping bag and digitally penetrated her. ‘I couldn’t move. I was sweating.’ Simone spoke to Winton and he stopped and went outside.
‘Simone jumped on top of me. She grabbed hold of my arm very hard and I was bruised with a hand print for about a week. She said in a low voice “Stay away from my fucking husband”. She was so angry.’
Winton came to see Ellen 30 years later. Simone had left him. He told Ellen ‘he should have had more guts and come and got me years ago. I was stunned. All the old memories came flooding back’.
The fact that Ellen’s daughter was now the same age Ellen had been when Winton abused her was the final straw.
‘I didn’t know whether he was there for me and my daughter or … just there for my daughter … I couldn’t cope with it. That’s when I went to the police.’
Ellen made a statement to a local policeman, Duncan Lewis, about the sexual abuse.
Later on Lewis asked Ellen back to the police station. He told her he’d interviewed Winton’s wife Simone, who had made a statement but later asked if she could change it. Lewis had agreed and now he wanted Ellen to change her statement as well. Ellen refused.
Ellen had expected that Simone would also be charged, since she had facilitated Winton’s access to young girls for years. She believes Lewis felt sorry for Simone because her statement made her ‘look bad’.
Before the case went to court the public prosecutor asked Ellen ‘What makes you think [the jury] are going to believe you? You kept going back for it’.
Other prosecutors were great, and said she had ‘the perfect case’.
On the day of the trial, both she and another victim discovered that their typed statements had been changed (Ellen thinks by the police) to protect or shield Simone. When the other victim realised her statement had been watered down, she fled the court. The charges regarding her were dropped.
The other charges were heard in court. The judge read Ellen’s impact statement to the court, which she found very upsetting. Winton was found guilty but received a suspended sentence.
Soon afterwards Ellen complained to the police ethical standards department about the fact that her statement had been changed. The case was given to Lewis’ boss. ‘She thought that we were trying to get Lewis in trouble. I wasn’t … All I was trying to do was get Simone charged.’
Citing a lack of evidence, including photographic evidence about Simone’s physical assault on her, the case was declared to be ‘resolved’. Ellen thought it was ridiculous. ‘It was just all too much conflict of interest.’
Ellen still lives in the same Victorian town, as does Winton. She feels like her life has been shaped by her experience of sexual abuse and that she was blamed for being the object of Winton’s attention. ‘It’s like everyone is judging me my whole life. And I still feel that.’
She used to have great faith in the judicial system but not anymore.
‘If my children told me that they’d been abused … I’m not letting them go to court. I’m going to use every contact I’ve got and I’m taking the bastard out. And I mean that. I don’t give a shit whether I go to jail.’