Penny Wynona's story

'He pinned me down and said if I struggled even once, he’d put the champagne bottle inside me and stomp on my stomach so hard that the bottle would shatter and I’d bleed to death. I did what I was told. I didn’t struggle. But when he was finished raping me, he got the champagne bottle and raped me with it anyway.'

Penny, 17, was being assaulted by Jack Talbot, some 20 years her senior. He was a Baptist youth pastor, married with young children, who had been grooming her since she was a troubled 13-year-old in regional New South Wales.

Although he lived interstate, he was good friends with Penny's local youth pastor, and paid extended visits. When Penny first met him, she was a vulnerable girl starved of positive attention. She had suffered sexual abuse at a very young age from her paternal grandfather and uncle, and her family was falling apart; her parents separated just as she turned 13 in the 1980s.

'Jack took an immediate and special interest in me', Penny wrote in a submission to the Royal Commission. 'He said he thought I was his kindred spirit … It wasn’t long before we were sharing personal information. It felt good to be trusted by someone like Jack.'

Talbot extended the friendship over the next few years by email and telephone, as well as more visits. 'As the relationship continued and built, I felt stuck in it', Penny recalls. 'But at the same time I felt responsible for it. It was very stressful at times and I often wanted out, but had no idea how.'

Talbot was particularly interested in details of Penny's sex life, and probed the memories of childhood abuse that she had disclosed to him.

'Jack would comment on the changes he noticed in my body from visit to visit. He would make it his business to know everything about me. He did that in a way that felt like he was a wise guardian. That felt special because there wasn’t safety in my own home. I trusted him even though I was often confused and upset.'

Then, when Penny was 17, she was offered a university placement in the city where Talbot lived. This seemed perfect, especially as her boyfriend, John, had recently moved to the same city.

'I was really keen … I could stay with John and spend each day with Jack at the high school he worked at. The university agreed to it, Jack’s principal agreed to it, John was excited to have me for a few months – and my mum thought it was a stupid idea, but okayed it.

'She said to me, though, that it was a long way away and if I found myself in any trouble I shouldn’t bother calling her.'

Things started to go wrong as soon as Penny landed. Her boyfriend was stiff and unfriendly, hardly speaking. When they got to his home, empty of his family who were away on holiday, he finally explained that Talbot had told him the sole reason she was visiting was to spend time with Talbot.

'He was happy for me to stay in his house, but he wanted me to know that he didn’t want to talk about it and really wanted nothing to do with me between that night and when I left.'

The trap closed around Penny. Talbot was the only other person she knew in town – and he convinced her to give him her plane ticket 'for safekeeping'. After some strange and threatening behaviour, she told him she wanted to fly home. He refused to let her go and became obsessive in watching her every move – 'He would stand outside the toilet waiting for me if I needed to go'.

When she tried to make a phone call he went berserk, ripped the phone out of the wall – and raped her across a desk.

'After that the days all seemed to blend into each other. His demand for sex was every day. He would rape me in his car, in his office, at his home if his wife was out. He would make me give him oral sex, often a couple of times a day. He would demand that I undress and allow him to take photos of me naked and while doing sex acts.

'He would then let me know that if ever I spoke about what was happening to anybody, he had photographic evidence that I had consented.

'He made me write letters home. He’d stand over me and tell me what to write. They were letters letting friends and family know that I was fine and to not bother getting in touch with me because I was busy and rarely near a phone.'

After nearly two months, Talbot suddenly announced that Penny could leave. There was just one catch: she would have to fly with him to Sydney first. Arriving late at night, he took her to a hotel where he ordered a bottle of champagne.

'The abuse and violence escalated. Other men arrived in the hotel room for sex with me. The room remained in darkness, leaving the men faceless and me disoriented. If I cried during any of the assaults, a pillow case was put over my head … I have no idea of how many men came to the room. Sometimes it was one at a time. Other times it was in groups.

'I was raped, beaten, spat on and had cigarettes put out on my body. I was held down while hot wax was put on my genital area to remove hair. It burnt my skin and to this day has prevented hair being able to grow there again.'

After several days, Penny was put on a bus back home, with dire warnings to say nothing.

She heeded them for a year, then told her mother a brief outline of what had happened: 'She said she just didn’t have the energy for what I was saying, and that I should go and talk to a friend of hers. We never mentioned it again.'

The friend's response 'was to keep it quiet for my own protection. She said I had a reputation of being a naughty kid and if the Church had to believe me against a youth pastor, they would believe him'. Penny decided to follow that advice and stayed silent for years, as she entered a violent marriage that lasted more than a decade.

After the marriage ended and Penny was raising several children on her own, she got a message on social media from Talbot. 'He commented about photos of my daughter, and said he had fond memories of the time we spent together.’

When Penny realised that Talbot was still working with young children, she approached the police. However, before the investigation had gone far, she learnt that Talbot had died.

'I've asked myself many times why I didn't run away or report him, and blamed myself over the years. I now understand that the experience was so traumatic, I was in fear and Jack had me feeling and behaving as If I was in captivity – which in fact I was, even if I was not being held in a prison.'

Shame, depression, insomnia and panic attacks are the legacy of that teenage abuse. And Penny is no longer part of the Baptist congregation. 'I have no faith in the Church as a religious institution', she says. 'I have experienced more harm in it than outside of it.'

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