Sofie's story

Sofie’s mother educated her children on inappropriate touching from a very young age. Sofie knew what to do if she was ever in a bad situation, and she knew she could always tell her mother if something was wrong.

In the late 1980s, when Sofie was seven, she was enrolled in swimming lessons. The local pool in suburban Melbourne employed several instructors, one of whom was Lionel Emmerson. He was in his late 40s and always wore ‘Speedo trunks’. Sofie said he was very much a hands-on type of teacher.

One day, after doing her usual lap of the pool, Emmerson picked her up and swam her back to the other end. He sexually abused Sofie, even though her mother was sitting close by.

‘I remember feeling his bathers, his hair, his skin on the inside of my legs … He would have our legs wrapped around him and he’d walk us down the pool. This time he said, “We are going to do a different kind of exercise” … He put his hands on the inside of my bathers and was rubbing me. He was facing towards the deep end and I was facing the shallow end and Mum saw my face and she knew immediately that something was wrong.’

Sofie was frozen with fear. She said her mother ‘dropped everything’ and rushed over. Sofie recalls her mother asking what was wrong but she couldn’t speak. She was pulled out of the water and taken to the far corner, and her mother created a screen with a towel for privacy. She disclosed the abuse to her mother underneath the towel.

Sofie recalls her mother being very angry, and being taken to the police station the next day to make a complaint against Emmerson.

The police officer knew his name and said ‘Oh no, not Emmerson again’.

She’s not sure if her mother gave her own statement, but Sofie was led to a bare room and handed a plastic doll. She said the officer asked her to demonstrate where Emmerson touched her, which she did despite her confusion.

After making her statement, Sofie felt like she wasn’t believed, and the police said they didn’t have enough evidence to charge Emmerson. But that didn’t stop her mother. She notified the local council, the pool staff and the Victorian swimming teachers’ peak body. She also called other parents who sent their children to swimming lessons. Emmerson was fired a couple of months later and Sofie never saw him again.

She regards her own experience of abuse as ‘not that bad’ compared to other stories, but it has impacted her significantly throughout her teens and adulthood. She finds it difficult to trust people and has intimacy and relationship issues. She often gets distressed when caring for her own children as they’re at the age when she was abused.

Sofie is embarrassed and ashamed of what happened to her, and also angry at her ‘inability to get over it’.

‘It’s with me, I carry it with me every day. I want to be rid of it. It’s impacted my self-confidence … It impacts what I think I’m entitled to.’

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