Jane’s family have been actively involved in a local sporting club in New South Wales for seven or eight years as participants and volunteers. But after the events of the past few years, the family is divided in their feelings about the club.
Her father, Michael, told the Commissioner, ‘Jane never waned one little bit. However her mum has a complete and utter hatred for the organisation. It disturbs her. And myself, I think I’m the balance between the both. I’m happy to support Jane through the organisation and give her all the encouragement she needs but at the same time, if it was just me, I certainly wouldn’t give them much time’.
When Jane was 13 she was taken to a secluded area by Mark, a 19-year-old member of the club, and sexually abused. The abuse was discovered by two older female members who walked in on the act and reported it to the club and police straight away. Mark was arrested and charged.
The child protection squad asked the club to distribute a letter asking if anyone else had anything to report about Mark, and out of that, six other girls came forward – three of whom were willing to go to court. One of the girls who didn’t want to continue had made a statement about Mark to the police and to the organisation four years before, but had been too traumatised to follow it through to trial. Mark pleaded guilty to numerous charges and was convicted and served a sentence in jail.
Jane and Michael, who attended the private session together, told the Commissioner they were happy with the court and police process. But they felt the club had significant failures in the way they dealt with the situation.
‘Those that were immediately on the case that day were very supportive directly to Jane and our family. The rest of the club … we got a very cold shoulder immediately,’ said Michael.
Jane wanted to continue her sport as normal and turned up for regular club activities the following day.
‘We used to walk into the club and get a “Hi” from everyone,’ said Michael. ‘From that day on there was a very small minority that spoke to us. A lot of people were offended. And there were very senior members of the club. So it made it uncomfortable.’
Jane was also targeted on social media and by members of the community who were close to the club and the offender.
She told the Commissioner, ‘Mark’s sister, she was my best friend before it happened but she kept on messaging me saying it was all my fault and that it was my fault I put him in jail and she could never see him again’.
Michael said the club offered no support or counselling. When he pursued them they said they knew Jane was receiving counselling through the child protection unit so they focused their attention on others at the club who had been affected by the incident, such as the women who had witnessed the act.
Michael says those people have assured him they have never been contacted by the organisation or offered support or counselling.
‘One of them’s left the organisation. Their family had been members all their life and they walked away.’
Michael said the club eventually wrote a letter which was meant to show their support for Jane but he described it as ‘tokenistic … not supportive or encouraging in any way, shape or form’.
Michael was most distressed that there was no investigation of protocols or standards at the club and, since the events, there have been no reminders for others to be vigilant. He said there’s a gap between the stated protocols and how things are actually done. During induction processes there was little to no explanation of basic principles and the club relied on volunteer members to inform themselves.
Jane said that children in the club had never received any advice or instruction about appropriate behaviour, or who to approach if anything inappropriate ever occurred. Michael also noted the mixture of age groups and genders active within the organisation and the nature of physical activities made it an easy environment for potential predators.
He said, ‘No one has ever had any inspection of their protocols at any club level. It’s great having policies, procedures, whatever. But no one has a control check on them or any ability to do it. At a club level, people are time poor’.
Michael was also concerned about the lack of mandatory reporting requirements.
‘Had someone acted on the allegation four years before, this may not have happened,’ he said. ‘They couldn’t legally because the girl pulled out, but they could have internally … What are the grey areas? How do we make people feel safe?’