In the early 2000s, Wilf reported to police that he had been sexually abused as a young teenager by his football coach. The police officer was sympathetic but told Wilf unless he moved interstate to Victoria, where the abuse had occurred, no action could be taken. In his mid 30s by then, Wilf had a young family and had just started a business, so it wasn’t possible for him to move.
The abuse occurred over a two-year period, starting when Wilf was about 13. His family lived in a small rural area in Victoria and sport was important in the community. ‘Everyone was a part of it’, and Wilf played on the football and the cricket teams. One day during football practice he strained a groin muscle.
‘I was struggling to run a move and the coach or someone might have said to me ‘”Go in and get that seen to”, which I did.’ Team injuries were managed by the club trainer, Len Simpson. Massaging Wilf’s groin, Simpson brushed his hand against Wilf’s penis. ‘Next thing he’s grabbing it and masturbating it’, Wilf told the Commissioner.
This was the first incident of many. ‘The injury itself would come and go and [Simpson] would treat me and sometimes he wouldn’t touch me, other times he would.’
He threatened to kill Wilf’s parents if Wilf said anything to them, but as well as frightening Wilf, he was also friendly to him. It was deeply confusing for Wilf, whose physical responses to Simpson’s assaults made him feel that he was part of the problem. ‘I think I was battling in myself … I don’t think mentally I understood what was happening.’
A program was established at Wilf’s high school which nominated a teacher who students could talk to about issues they felt they couldn’t discuss with parents or friends. Wilf was on the verge of making an appointment, but Simpson made it clear that whatever Wilf said to the teacher would find its way back to him. Later, on a school camp, the teacher’s sexual innuendoes about girls in Wilf’s class made him glad he hadn’t confided in him.
Wilf said the abuse affected his relationships at high school and beyond.
‘I think through my adolescence – you always felt different, and you never really understood that – I become a bit more reclusive I suppose. I didn’t feel like I missed or fitted with other people real well. It took me a long time to have a girlfriend, relationships, that sort of thing …
‘As a young man growing up going to nightclubs and stuff, I would never – even though I might have been wanting to meet a girl and have a sexual relationship – I would never come across that way because I felt that confusion, I suppose. “Am I doing something wrong? Am I doing something right” … I eventually worked through all that.’
As a young man, Wilf sought out help from a mental health service. At the time, he thought he had a mental illness. He disclosed his abuse and received counselling. ‘From there I moved on with my life, I suppose’. He had already spoken to his mother about it, when he was 18, but her response, and later the response of his father and brothers, didn’t help.
‘Her reaction was “I can understand him doing that”. And, you know, “Don’t say anything to anyone or people in the district will talk”.’
Wilf eventually found out that his mother had also been sexually assaulted. She never spoke of it. Her experience, and his, has left him committed to speaking openly. ‘I hate the secrets. I can’t stand secrets. I can’t stand secrets in my own house anymore, because I have the view that that’s how the paedophiles survive, is with their secrets.’
Wilf believes society overall is naive about the way paedophiles can organise their personal and working lives to get themselves into positions of trust with children. Better precautions are needed.
‘There needs to be more put in place. A child can’t be with a trainer on their own. There has to be a male and a female present, or something like that.’
Being open is the best way to raise awareness about where and how child sex abuse occurs, he believes. ‘Because I don’t think the football community would have ever dreamed that this had happened, and does happen, in their community.
‘To think that a paedophile molested a child in the change room, while everyone’s just out there running around doing the training … I don’t believe that people would even consider that happening.’