At 15 years old, Tristan was one of the youngest people to attend a private session with the Royal Commission. Accompanied by his mother, Bonnie, Tristan told the Commissioner about the abuse he suffered during an interstate sporting trip when he was 14.
An exceptional athlete, Tristan was selected for the team despite the fact that he was two years younger than most of the other players. He told the Commissioner that, because of his youth, he was designated the ‘team bitch’ and had to perform chores like collecting all the gear after each training session. Initially, he said, the teasing was done in the spirit of fun.
‘They respected me and genuinely wanted to be good mates with me and not be like, “Oh, just the younger kid”.’
Shortly before the trip, however, the state body in charge of the sport announced that a new player named Liam White would be joining the team. Liam was known as an aggressive, sometimes ‘dirty’ player. Once Liam joined the team there was a sudden ‘culture shift’. Tristan said that this shift became obvious during the first few days of the trip when some of the boys, including an older kid named Cameron, started to take the ‘team bitch’ game to a ‘whole new level’.
‘Cameron slapped me across the face and was calling me “team bitch” and stuff. And when I told him to eff off and stuff he said, “I’ll do whatever I want to you, team bitch” … Also I remember at the end Cameron went to say something to me – and this was the day before the event actually happened to me – he went to say something then Liam stopped him and said, “Well save it for later”.’
By this stage there had already been a few incidents in which Liam had tied boys up with duct tape. Tristan said the first incident was just an innocent prank where his friend Mark was bound so loosely that he easily broke his bonds and laughed along. Also, he was fully clothed at the time.
So, one night when Liam started threatening to tie Tristan up with duct tape, Tristan played along, thinking it was just another case of ‘mucking around’. Then Liam demanded that Tristan strip down to his underwear.
This was all taking place in one of the hotel rooms with most of the team present. Still believing that this was a joke and he would be untied quickly, Tristan agreed. Liam then bound him so tightly to the chair that he could barely move.
In a written statement, Tristan said, ‘I said words to the effect of, “How the fuck am I supposed to get out of this? You didn’t do this to Mark”. Liam then said words to the effect of, “Because you’re not getting out of this tonight”. Cameron then said words to the effect, “Face it, you’re going to get raped”.’
For the next 15 minutes or so Tristan struggled to break the tape while Liam and Cameron taunted him, with Cameron also pinching his nipples. Other boys watched. Some of them filmed the incident on their phones. Liam then brought up some pornography on his phone and held it up to Tristan’s face, saying things like, ‘Is he getting excited yet?’
The incident ended after about half an hour when another team-member, Adam, entered the room. After a brief argument he shoved Liam against a wall and cut Tristan free with a kitchen knife.
A short while later, Tristan told his parents what had happened and they contacted the state body and the police. Various processes were set in motion. Ultimately, Tristan and his family were disappointed with the outcomes.
Liam, Cameron and another boy were charged with offences committed against Tristan, and pleaded guilty. They were offered the chance to participate in a youth justice conference. Liam refused. The other two agreed but became vague and uncooperative during the process. The facilitator’s attitude worsened the situation. Tristan said, ‘I just got the impression by the way that he tried to handle it, that instead of having a thing of accountability, which is what it was supposed to be about, and giving us the power back, he just wanted us to all go back to being friends’.
The conference ended with a resolution that the boys should create a code of conduct poster to be displayed at all team events. But because the two boys were so unresponsive, the facilitator asked Tristan to organise the project. Tristan has since tried many times to schedule a time to work with the boys but they keep avoiding him.
Meanwhile, Tristan has kept up his training despite the cold treatment he’s received from many of his team-members. Unfortunately, he has recently encountered a wall of silence from local selectors and has been denied some great training opportunities.
Looking back on it all, Bonnie said that one of the most frustrating things was the way people minimised the incident and accused her and Tristan of overreacting. This attitude, she said, entirely missed the point, which was that the perpetrators needed to be held to account now so that they would understand what they’d done and not go on to do something worse.
She said to Tristan: ‘I’ll never forget you saying to me, “The risk of raping someone one day, Mum – they were so close to doing this, and if they don’t learn that this is not okay then they’re at risk of doing this in the future”.’