Child swimmers speak of betrayal after abuse allegations

Terry Buck and Stephen Roser: Alleged to have abused young swimmers.
Terry Buck and Stephen Roser: Alleged to have abused young swimmers.

The guilt or innocence of swimming coaches Scott Volkers, Terry Buck or Stephen Roser is not the question for this royal commission, but the treatment of their alleged victims is.

Some of them took the stand on Monday, sometimes tearful, often angry, to testify against the system that they say betrayed and belittled them, and refused to believe them or trivialised their claims that they were repeatedly abused as child swimmers.

Kylie Rogers, who alleges she was 14 when Mr Volkers began molesting her in the mid-1980s, sobbed as she recalled her mental breakdown years later, in 2002, and being taken involuntarily to hospital.

"I remember saying to the police 'Can you shoot me? Just shoot me'," she said.

This was soon after the committal hearing into allegations that Mr Volkers abused Ms Rogers, Julie Gilbert and Simone Boyce while he was their coach in Queensland.

The Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions soon dropped that case, convinced it had no hope of a conviction so long after the alleged abuses. The deputy DPP, Paul Rutledge, had decided the "complainants had a smell about them and his own experience of taking children to swimming training did not support the complainants' version".

Ms Gilbert described how "appalled" she was when, in a 2004 review of the case, the NSW DPP supported that decision and this state's deputy senior Crown prosecutor, Margaret Cunneen, SC, concluded: "She does come across as someone looking for someone to blame for not being a more successful swimmer."

Ms Cunneen had referred to the "unlikelihood that a 13-year-old girl would have experienced an orgasm while being indecently assaulted" and Ms Gilbert took her to task over whether she was qualified to make this assumption, noting evidence contradicted her.

The three former swimmers detailed how Mr Volkers allegedly abused them: massaging their breasts, touching their vaginas, putting his tongue in their ears. Ms Gilbert, now a dietician and mother of four, cried only once during her testimony, when describing the eating disorder she endured, which she blamed on Mr Volkers' alleged abuses.

She described the meeting where Mr Rutledge explained why the case against Mr Volkers was being dropped.

"He was condescending and made me feel like I was just a housewife," she said. He had said words to the effect that the DPP "could not use public money to go after a high-profile person like Volkers when three of us were saying something had happened but a thousand other girls trained by him said nothing happened to them".

Ms Gilbert alleged Mr Rutledge told her: "If it's any consolation to you, my wife believes you."

Ms Boyce, now a night shelf stacker with Woolworths, echoed Ms Gilbert when she said how hurtful it had been when the media branded them as liars.

Witness AEB was 13 years old in 1985 when her coach at the Scone Swimming Club, Mr Roser, molested her. In 1994, he pleaded guilty to indecent assault but AEB, who had won the inaugural Stephen Roser breast stroke award as a teenager, was horrified to learn that the prize continued under his name well after his conviction.

"It makes me nauseous that 29 kids have received that trophy," she told the royal commission. The club had renamed the award at her request.

Witness AEA was 11, he said, when his coach, Terry Buck – an Olympian who he called a "legend" – began abusing him at the Clovelly Surf Life Saving Club in 1960. Buck died in 2005 and the story did not emerge until 2009  – and AEA says he has since been shunned and it has ruined his own career as a swimming coach.

Asked why he was giving his story to the royal commission, AEA said: "I had to tell what a monster this man was to me and my family."

This story Child swimmers speak of betrayal after abuse allegations first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.