Shona is the mother of two daughters sexually abused by their sports coach, and is still an administrator for one of the associations where this abuse occurred. Through these experiences she has gained insight into the association’s culture of mateship and denial, and its sexualisation of young girls.
In the early 2000s Shona and her daughters joined a local sports association. Ashlea and Roxanne were 10 and nine years old. ‘The nature of [the sport] requires small, gymnastic females, who often are young in age, to work with strong adult males.’
The girls’ coach was Olly Bremner. Shona and her family started socialising with Olly and his partner, Kate, outside of the club and in each other’s homes, and the couple would sometimes babysit the sisters. Olly was highly respected and liked within the club, and became their senior coach.
When Roxanne was around 16, rumours started to spread around the club that Olly was having inappropriate sexual contact with her. These rumours began when Olly apparently bragged about this abuse while on a weekend away with mates.
Shona and her husband made inquiries, gaining confirmation from some of Olly’s friends. One of them said he didn’t want to get involved. Another said he had heard similar rumours in relation to Olly at a different sports club he also belonged to.
When Shona checked Roxanne’s phone usage she noticed a high level of activity with Olly. She confiscated the phone and this affected her relationship with Roxanne, who felt she was being punished for no reason.
Olly denied anything improper was going on, saying he was mentoring Roxanne regarding ‘self-esteem issues’. Shona wasn’t sure what to think. ‘While [it] sounds really obvious, at the time, that clarity wasn’t actually there.’
It wasn’t until Shona said she was thinking of reporting it to the police that Olly became contrite about the level of phone contact with her daughter. He said the rumours were spread by friends who were jealous, and that he would sue anyone who persisted in making these false accusations against him.
Ultimately, Shona didn’t report it to police because of the assurances Roxanne was giving her. Roxanne had a good relationship with both her parents and there was no reason for them not to believe her. However, Shona still restricted Roxanne’s phone usage and stopped her from having contact with Olly outside of the club.
After some months, Shona eased the restrictions and the two families slowly slipped back into some of their previous closeness.
Olly initiated a breakaway club, of which he became vice president and coach. Many good competitors were joining this new club, and Ashlea and Roxanne joined too.
This new club was registered with the sports board, unlike the previous one, which opened up new competitive opportunities overseas. Shona became a committee member.
Olly introduced a club member safety policy – a 50-page document which he signed. He insisted on the adults involved getting Working with Children police checks. This was all part of Olly’s tactics, which Shona now sees as ‘sinister’.
Membership grew and the club prospered for the next six years. ‘It seemed that everyone was behaving appropriately.’ However, in the mid-2010s Shona and the club learned that Olly was being investigated in relation to a number of indecent assault charges involving a junior female member of a different sports club. Olly stood down while the investigation took place.
Shortly after this Shona’s eldest daughter Ashlea, then in her 20s, reported to police about a time Olly sexually abused her. This had happened when she was 16 and in Olly’s care, and she was ‘terrified’ but able to rebuff him.
Ashlea didn’t report it at the time as she thought it was an isolated event. After that incident Olly had ‘spent a lot of time denigrating [Ashlea] in subtle ways, which I think was … a control thing to try and keep her quiet’.
During the investigation into Ashlea’s abuse an eye witness reported to the police about sexual activity between Olly and Roxanne years prior. A new investigation was then launched. Over the next 12 months the club became divided.
‘I have remained associated with the club. My first instinct was to run and hide but I remained associated because I really needed to follow this process the whole way through, including at club level.’
A number of current and past club members refused to assist with the investigations and didn’t provide statements to the police. ‘Doing the right thing by a mate was important and valued.’ Some were ‘victim blaming’ rather than prioritising the protection of club members.
A club associate, who was aware of the abuse of Roxanne at the time that it occurred but turned a ‘blind eye’, was also being investigated by a team from a separate club.
Shona found her experience with the police to be a very positive one. They were ‘easy to work with’ and ‘compassionate’. Olly Bremner was charged with over 50 offences ranging from grooming and indecent communications to much more serious offences. Court hearings are yet to occur. As a condition of his bail, Olly was not permitted to contact members of the club. However, there have been a number of charges in relation to him breaking that bail condition.
Shona reported the charges to the overseeing sports board , both on the phone and in writing. To her knowledge they have taken no action. ‘I imagine what they’re doing is that [Olly’s] membership eventually expired and … therefore it’s not their problem anymore.’
Roxanne and Ashlea, both in their twenties, are doing well in life. However, Shona believes Roxanne’s extensive travel and professional high-achieving is partly a coping mechanism.
As for the impact on Shona, ‘I would call it life changing, although I don’t want it to define my life and I do want to get through all of this … and then move on. But probably the thing I’ve found most confronting was the deceit and the manipulation and the change in my reality. So, up until not that long ago, I had this view of how I had raised my teenage daughters, how I felt I had been as a parent ... and that reality … was not reality at all. It’s been stolen from me. I find that really confronting’.