Melinda’s loving family life was blown apart when she started seminary studies in the early 1980s. She was brought up in the Mormon faith, and church was a massive part of her life.
From 14 to 18 years of age Mormon children must attend Bible and gospel study after school. Tony Walker was Melinda’s seminary teacher. He was 50 or so, and word had it that he let kids drink and smoke at his house, two things strictly forbidden by the Mormon faith.
Not long after she started his classes Walker invited Melinda and her friend Stacy to his place. Stacy seemed to know him quite well already. She told Walker that Melinda knew he didn’t exactly follow church teachings. ‘He said “I told you not to tell Melinda. She’s the weak link”.’
Later on Melinda realised what he meant. ‘The other girls had been specifically chosen because they had emotional behavioural issues. I was a good girl. Whenever I did anything wrong I would go to my bishop and confess. So that was a real problem for him as a paedophile.’
The girls told their parents they were going to a seminary meeting. Walker drove them to his house and served them alcohol. Lots of it. ‘Whenever I didn’t drink it he gave it to Stacy. So she was getting drunk and I wasn’t.’
When they were alone Stacy told Melinda she was scared because, when she was drunk, Walker ‘did things’ to her.
‘I’m like, what the hell is going on? What are we doing here? Why do you tell me this now? We’re in a dangerous situation. He’s more powerful than us.’
The house was freezing. The girls sat in the bedroom with a doona around them. Walker said to Melinda ‘Give us a little finger’. He wanted to put his finger in her vagina. ‘And I was like, no way … He tried to chase me across the bed and I just left the room and went out.’
Walker started grappling with Stacy. ‘He was almost on top of her. And she started screaming “Help me, help me.” And I pulled him off her and then he just turned around and pushed me down on the ground and tried to get on top of me. And I put my skirt up and put my legs up and he tried to pull my legs apart and get his body in between my legs. And I pushed him away and just got out of there.’
Walker took them to a cafe to try to sober Stacy up. He concocted a cover story: his car had broken down, so they never got to the meeting.
‘And that was it.’
Then the threats started. Walker rang Melinda while she was babysitting. ‘You know I can find you anywhere’, he said.
If she told anyone Melinda was warned, ‘I’ll take you down the plughole with me. No one will ever believe you.’ She said: ‘And I was just like “It’s all cool. It’s all right, I’m all fine” … But it wasn’t. I became quite scared of him but I never let him know that.’
Melinda started playing up at school. And failing. She was in Year 10. It was eight months since the sexual abuse happened and both girls were wagging school for weeks in a row. They knew they had to tell someone.
Eventually they told Stacy’s parents, who rang the priest. Melinda was relieved.
The Mormons believe in ‘the discerning spirit’, which means that a Mormon priest (called a bishop) can tell if you’re lying. Melinda was confident the bishop would believe her.
But when he heard her story, Melinda could see he didn’t.
Then her dad arrived. ‘And I got all those feelings that I thought would come from my bishop ... And I knew he believed me. And I felt that relief and I felt that protection.’
Her parents went to see Tony Walker. ‘Are you lying?’ her mum asked when they came back. Melinda lost it completely. ‘All I wanted to do was talk to the Church about what happened.’
She got her chance at a bishops’ court.
‘There were four men in there … My parents sat behind me. And I was just grilled. “What happened? What else have you heard? And are you lying? You’ve lied in the past”.’
It went until late into the night. When her parents finally appeared, Melinda asked what happened. ‘Nothing. Nothing happened’, her mum said.
Fifteen years later, when she was applying for victims compensation, Melinda discovered that the bishops court had charged her with misconduct and stealing. Nothing happened to Walker.
The Mormon community shunned Melinda and her family. People asked ‘How could you make up these lies about this poor man?’
The parents of the girls who’d been sexually abused then went to the police. The police had been waiting for someone to come forward. Tony Walker had prior child sex offence convictions. Melinda made a statement and Walker was charged with indecent assault and rape.
The bishops testified for Walker at the hearing. The rape charges were dropped and the remaining charges were set for trial.
Tony Walker suicided a week later. Melinda never got her day in court. There are people who still believe she made it up.
For years Melinda believed that Walker had faked his death and was coming to get her.
She has since been successful in getting compensation. The state president of the Church later realised that Melinda was not lying but has not apologised.
Melinda is on antidepressants and, after years of counselling, has the tools to help herself.
She told the Commission how important it is to use the right language when talking to children about sexual abuse.
She knows one thing for sure about her own kids. ‘I’ll never let them go to church … I won’t allow that to happen.’