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Tara Michelle's story

At the time of Tara’s ‘relationship’ with her coach, Dan, she didn’t understand that what he was doing was sexual abuse. ‘Obviously I went along with it and I was upset that it ended, and that type of thing ... that’s the way that I felt. And I think it’s a reflection on how I didn’t realise what was happening.’

Tara grew up in a New South Wales town, and as a teenager in the 1990s was asked to join a women’s sports team at the club. The other women were at least twice her age; as the youngest member she felt a little out of place. The coach, Dan Wiley, was around 30 years older than her, and lived in the area with his wife. He was a stern and authoritative figure, and seemed well-respected at the club.

Tara’s parents had met Dan and let him drive her to and from training, during which time she’d confide in him about issues at home. One time while he was consoling her, he put his hand on her thigh. This made her very uncomfortable but she didn’t know whether it was ‘appropriate’ to tell him to stop. Some mornings he would see her waiting for the bus and drive her to school, and he continued to touch her inappropriately.

Not having a close relationship with her parents or other adults, Tara felt flattered and special that he was giving her so much time and talking to her like she was important. Because of this grooming she started thinking maybe she was attracted to him.

Tara felt that her life was ‘boring’, so said yes when Dan asked her to have a relationship with him, even though he was married and she thought it was wrong. Their first kiss – her first ever kiss – made her feel ‘a bit grossed out’.

Tara didn’t know much about sex, and wasn’t sure what exactly was involved. Her family never discussed it and she hadn’t learnt much about it at school.

She was 16 when Dan took her to his house one day while his wife was out, and asked her to perform oral sex. She was uncomfortable doing this and left after a short while.

Her ‘relationship’ with Dan had to be a ‘big secret’ because of his marriage and her age, and he would make her hide if they were in the car together when they shouldn’t have been. He told her about sexual problems with his wife, and would write poems and buy Tara chocolates, jewellery, clothes and perfume.

Tara contracted genital herpes from sexual contact with Dan, and didn’t know what to do. Not having her own Medicare card and worried her parents would find out, she went to a women’s health clinic instead. She told staff there that she was seeing someone. When she told Dan about her diagnosis, he denied he could be to blame and accused her of having another sexual partner.

By this stage Dan had purchased a mobile phone for Tara so that she could call him, and he’d visit her at her part-time job. Eventually they had sexual intercourse, after he’d got her drunk and was ‘a little forceful’. They continued having sex many times after this, including one occasion when he filmed them together – telling her he did so in order to watch it when he couldn’t see her. She doesn’t know what ever happened to this film.

Sometimes Dan talked about leaving his wife to be with Tara, and they even discussed having a baby together, although he was careful that she did not become pregnant. Tara isn’t sure if his wife realised what was going on between them.

‘I don’t know, she was just really nice. Probably just with my innocence and her innocence too ... I think the club people would know more about the relationship.’

When Tara was 17, her parents confronted her about Dan, after her mother had read her diary and learned the nature of their relationship. Her father challenged Dan, telling him to leave the club and inform his wife of what he had done. Tara was very upset with her parents for interfering.

After this, Dan left the club and separated from his wife. Tara’s parents sent her to live away from the area without any money, and she had to fend for herself. For a short while Dan called, wrote and sent her presents, until she became involved with another man and ceased contact with him.

In the early 2010s, Tara made a report to police. They needed to establish Dan had been in a position of authority over her because of age consent laws operative in New South Wales at the time. Although he’d started grooming her when she was 15, sexual activity between them did not begin until she was 16 – the usual age of consent.

Although ‘the age gets raised to 18’ if the person having sex with a teenager holds a position of authority over them (such as a teacher or coach), police advised Tara that Dan had denied being coach of the team. Because they couldn’t establish otherwise, they could not charge him. Not being able to prove Dan’s position at the club meant that ‘technically I was 16 and I consented’. Tara has not made any civil claim against Dan nor the club, and a lawyer had advised her that because of the age of consent issue, it was unlikely she could sue him.

Tara has been diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder, and when she was younger she’d self-harmed and used illicit drugs. After receiving victims of crime compensation, she used the money to return to study. She was determined to make a better life for her daughter, and this kept her going even when she felt suicidal. ‘It was all for her, it wasn’t for me ... All I was here for was her.’

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