Horrie’s daughter Debbie had been playing in her local church-run sports club in Perth for years. Her team coach, Doug, who was in his 40s, was friendly and obliging and often drove Debbie and her friends to practice. Horrie told the Commissioner that Doug frequently went to the family house for dinner and was a guest at Christmas and Easter. All in all he’d become a close family friend.
But Horrie and his wife Barb didn’t realise that when Doug was alone with the girls from Debbie’s team, he became a completely different person. His jokes were sexual, he asked them about their sex life and he gave them lurid details about his. Debbie thought he was ‘a bit of a weirdo’ and left it at that. She didn’t tell her parents that Doug had been sending her sexually suggestive Facebook messages since she was 16.
One day in his car, Debbie and her friend were discussing naked images of herself that Debbie had texted to her boyfriend. She was worried they’d end up on the internet. She realised later that Doug must have overheard the conversation.
At the same time, Debbie was getting rebellious at home – answering back, not doing chores. Horrie and Barb were bewildered. ‘She’d say things like, “It’s my body, I can do what I want”. We’d say “What are you talking about? No one said you can’t.”’
After a big family blow-up one night, Doug suggested Debbie stay with him so that he could sort her out. Horrie and Barb agreed. They didn’t know Doug had been undermining them to her, saying things like ‘Your parents don’t understand you. They don’t understand you like I do’.
Debbie later recounted to her parents how Doug’s true colours emerged during the next three days. He invited Debbie to watch porn films with him. He suggested she walk around the house naked. He said she could have an orgasm on the couch if she wanted. Debbie was shocked and didn’t respond. One night Doug chased her around the house. She wouldn’t let him near her and he threw his mobile phone at her in frustration. Another night he straddled her while she was asleep and then, when she woke up, pretended to be playing.
Debbie rang her dad on the second night and asked to come home. Unaware of what was happening, Horrie replied ‘There’s no point in coming home if nothing’s going to change’. Debbie stayed another night at Doug’s house, then came home. She didn’t tell her parents what had happened.
One day at training, Doug told Debbie he’d found naked images of her on a website. He showed her the images on his phone. They were the photos she’d taken of herself and sent to her boyfriend. She realised he’d stolen them from her phone, while she was staying at his house. Doug told her he’d paid to have them removed from the website and showed her an invoice for the cost. Debbie came home in tears from training and told her parents everything. They reported Doug to the police.
‘The police said it was a classic case of grooming … But he was grooming her and he was grooming us.’ They also said although Doug’s behaviour was morally unacceptable and inappropriate for a coach, there was no proof Debbie hadn’t sent the photos to him herself. They reported it to the Child Abuse Unit and told Horrie to let the sports club know about him. The police action stopped there.
The family did meet with the sports club manager and the sports association’s CEO. The two men had notebooks but didn’t write down a single word. ‘They asked us two questions: "Why now?" and “Do you know what slander is?” That’s the only two questions they asked us.’ Requests for mediation were refused. The club insisted it was a personal matter.
‘They didn’t want to be seen to have a rogue coach’, Horrie told the Commissioner. ‘They just covered it all up, supported him through the season and then sent him on his way.’
In fact, none of the club’s member protection policy was followed. Doug was suspended from one training session. Debbie was suspended until her family insisted she’d done nothing wrong. As the allegations got out about Doug, other families grew hostile. Doug had a good reputation among the sporting fraternity.
The family were finally given a member protection officer, after they complained to the game’s state organisation. The officer told Horrie and Barb that in AFL, ‘that coach would have been suspended till this whole thing got sorted out’.
Horrie read from his written statement to the Commission: ‘We have never had an apology or any kind of acknowledgement of the abuse suffered by Debbie and the long-term stress and pressures this has caused in our family. No one has accepted any kind of responsibility for what happened.’
After her experience with Doug, Debbie suffered from anorexia and mental anguish. Her school grades deteriorated as well. The family hasn’t applied for compensation. Changing the club’s culture so that no other girls are exposed to Doug is a higher priority for them.
‘If there’s anything I want out of this, I’d just like to know who decided to put a lid on it.’
Debbie’s health and emotional state have now improved but Horrie still has Doug’s name on his radar, ready to alert any other club that takes him on as a coach.
‘All last year he coached the under 16 girls, assistant coach for the under 14 girls … He just carried on like nothing had happened.’