At the age of 13 Virginia’s son, Daniel, came into her bedroom one night and told her he had been repeatedly abused by the team coach at his sporting club. Daniel was keen to take his story to the police, because he didn’t want other kids to go through what he had suffered.
‘Whether it was the right thing to do at the time I really don’t know anymore’, Virginia told the Commissioner. Their day in court proved very distressing.
Daniel loved his sport and was good at it. His involvement with the club included three nights of training and a game on the weekend. Coach Brett Oxenham was always there. He would visit Daniel at home as well and drive him to games. ‘He was a family friend, really.’ At that time Virginia never saw any sign that Daniel was being harmed.
Oxenham would put Daniel through a ‘muscle test’. This was an excuse to touch Daniel’s body. The examination would progress to genital fondling. The abuse happened regularly when Oxenham and Daniel were alone together.
After making a report to the police, Virginia and Daniel were visited by a team from the Rape Squad to take statements. Virginia praises the police. ‘It was all private, confidential … They were very dedicated young policemen and women.’
Daniel insisted on sticking with his team. He was their best player that season. Virginia regrets giving into his wishes back then, but she made sure Daniel was never to be left alone with Brett Oxenham.
Eventually the police contacted Oxenham and he was charged under child sexual assault laws. Life then became difficult for Virginia and Daniel. ‘Once it was out there he intimidated us.’ Virginia received phone calls with only silence on the line. A car would drive repeatedly through their property. Virginia believes this was Oxenham trying to scare them into dropping the charges.
Virginia was contacted by a parent at the club. Oxenham was ‘telling everyone’ that Daniel was a liar. ‘[Oxenham] convinced everyone that he was the victim.’ Virginia was never contacted by the club and never offered support. Oxenham continued as coach. Daniel began to suffer abuse and taunts at school and from his sports team. He changed schools several times. Virginia, feeling threatened, stopped Daniel playing sport and shifted the family interstate.
They returned months later for the trial of Brett Oxenham.
As the police investigated other boys had come forward with complaints about the coach. In court the police presented six separate child sexual abuse matters concerning Oxenham, wanting them all to be considered as a single case. The magistrate refused. He went on to hear each matter separately.
Daniel and Virginia found the trial very stressful. Daniel was still only 14 years old at the time and had to give evidence in court and face cross-examination. When Virginia took the stand Oxenham’s defence lawyers accused her of making the accusations for money. ‘I lost it then. I said, “You’re disgusting”. Coming home every night, cooking tea. As if I’d be in it for money. As if I’d want to do all this!’
In the end the magistrate dismissed all the charges against Oxenham in all six matters.
‘The police would’ve put so much work into it … They were blown away that they didn’t get a conviction.’ Daniel was devastated by the result. ‘We all felt flat as a tack.’
Daniel’s anger grew after the failed trial. He returned to his sport and became a very aggressive player. He found school difficult and began to truant. He became a heavy user of marijuana. When Virginia remarried Daniel rejected his stepfather and became violent towards him.
Eventually Daniel decided not to let anger and marijuana rule his life. He couldn’t cope with counselling as he felt it forced him to relive the trauma of his abuse. He did get on top of his drug problem for a time. Stays at a detox centre helped him and he completed study and began planning a career.
Daniel’s life ended when he was 30. He had become involved with an addict, trying to help her beat her addiction. Somehow he had been tempted to sample her drug of choice – heroin. The experiment killed him.
Virginia has lost her son. She has been through four years of counselling which has helped her. Now she is keen to get on with her life.
Brett Oxenham continued to offend. It took the police another 10 years to obtain a conviction against him. In the early 2000s Oxenham was finally sent to jail for child sexual assault.