In the world of elite sport that Melinda occupied as a child, ‘the coach really was everything – so, literally, not only the coach, but the psychologist and the sports trainer and the nutritionist and, you know, everything, and you believed every word that was actually said and actually told’.
Melinda’s coach was Cameron Jenkins. She first met him in the 1970s when she was eight years old, and he was assistant coach at her local sports club. Showing talent, she started training twice a day, and was soon competing at state level.
Jenkins progressed too, becoming a coach for the sport’s national organisation. Melinda was in his team. He flattered her, and made her feel special.
As Melinda grew up she spent more time with Jenkins than she did with her own family, and her relationship with him was intense. Her life shrank down to Jenkins, the kids she trained and competed with, and her goal to win an Olympic gold medal. ‘That relationship with the coach is everything. He is there to fulfil your goals and your dreams.’
Jenkins was outgoing and friendly, easy to talk to, and showed an interest in her family. She now recognises he was grooming both her and her parents.
Going through puberty in front of the club was terrible for the girls, who were subjected to crude comments about their weight and their tan lines by the coaches. Jenkins would call Melinda ‘flat-chested’ and ‘frigid’. The boys thought he was great.
When she was 13 Jenkins started sexually assaulting her. It was regular practice for coaches to provide rub downs with Dencorub on sore muscles, and the massages Jenkins gave Melinda were never questioned.
During these sessions Jenkins massaged her breasts twice, and on occasion masturbated her at his residence. ‘He massaged my back and shoulders, then began to massage my calves and inner leg ... From there he rubbed my vagina and clitoris until I had an orgasm. At the time I did not understand these feelings and what was going on. I did not know what to do. This was a man that I trusted and I was scared.’
Melinda was confused, as she trusted Jenkins completely. The next time he tried to massage her she said, ‘No’, and pushed him away.
At the time, she did not know who she could tell. She decided to discontinue with her sport, although she was leading her age category in the state. She also developed an eating disorder, and now ‘I measure how I've recovered from this – it sounds terrible – but by the frequency of my bulimia attacks’.
For a long time, she was scared to say anything about the abuse because Jenkins had a high profile due to his success as a coach. In the 1990s, Melinda told her partner about the sexual assaults.
Police investigated Jenkins, and Melinda and a number of other girls made reports. She did not know who the other victims were until the committal hearing.
The prosecution was discontinued shortly after this hearing, ostensibly because of ‘credibility’ issues with the complainants. Melinda reported that Jenkins’s lawyers had privately met with the public prosecutor, and argued that there was no independent corroboration of the allegations.
The defence also had numerous witness statements they said would discredit the complainants’ evidence. It appears these statements were accepted by the prosecution without interviewing these witnesses. ‘Secret deals should not be done behind closed doors between prosecutors and defence lawyers.’
Unlike the police investigation, where Melinda was constantly updated and supported, she did not feel like she was part of the prosecution process. Nobody took the time to sit with her or get to know her, and it seems all they were worried about was the high profile Jenkins had.
‘So if I was successful and well-known, this would be okay to go forward with it but because there's such a David and Goliath relationship here, then I must be the one making it up ... I have the credibility issues and I have to prove myself. He doesn't.’
Melinda’s partner contacted the state’s sports academy with concerns that Jenkins was still coaching and had actually been promoted. He also wrote to the national organisation, but was ignored.
The decision of the public prosecutor to discontinue the criminal proceedings was criticised by a state commission. The police reviewed their investigation further, and provided a second brief of evidence to the public prosecutor, who still argued there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction.
Partly this was because Melinda had experienced an orgasm during the assault. ‘I found this incredibly distressing and insulting. It is more than natural for a young girl’s body to react in this way, and the ignorance of the decision makers in this regard is astounding. Such a stance sends an awful message of placing blame or responsibility on the child who has been sexually assaulted.’
Melinda attempted to run a private prosecution after this. ‘This was prevented from proceeding due to the judge ruling it was not in the public interest.’ She has never received any compensation, and has been distressed by negative media reports.
People within her sporting fraternity have also accused the other girls of making up the abuse to excuse their own shortcomings. Now Melinda is concerned that if she speaks further about the abuse publicly then Jenkins may try to sue her. ‘You can't say anything and you have to sit there ... He was entitled to clear his name. I should also be entitled to have my story as well.’