An old photo of a young girl in a leotard doing the splits on a balance beam.

Alison waited decades for her abuser to answer for his crimes. Now she’s waiting again

A Sunshine Coast woman says she was left in limbo by Gymnastics Australia, which has yet to join the National Redress Scheme for abuse survivors despite years of promises.

Alison Quigley, who was sexually abused as a teenage gymnast in the 1980s, has been waiting for the sport’s governing body to live up to its word for more than two years.

The National Redress Scheme aims to provide support to those who have been subjected to institutional child abuse by offering counselling, a redress payment and “a direct personal response” from the organization responsible.

Ms Quigley was a junior national team champion at Victoria aged 14 when she was groomed and raped by 40-year-old Graham Partington in 1981.

Partington was convicted and jailed for his crimes in 2017, but it would be years before the sport would be forced to reckon with his past.

After high-profile allegations of sexual abuse in gymnastics overseas surfaced, former Gymnastics Australia chief executive Kitty Chiller said there had “never been any evidence” of abuse locally.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

A denial in the face of the facts

The 2017 arrest of famed US gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, along with allegations from hundreds of foreign athletes, heightened scrutiny of Australian gymnastics.

Despite this, Kitty Chiller, chief executive of Gymnastics Australia, claimed in 2018 that there had “never been any evidence of abuse” of Australian gymnasts.

This was despite the fact that Ms Quigley’s perpetrator had already been convicted, as had Geoffrey Dobbs, who, as a teacher and gymnastics coach, had exploited more than 100 girls for almost 30 years.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse also published examples of child sexual abuse, including by a primary school gym teacher.

Under mounting pressure following the release of documentary ‘Athlete A’, Gymnastics Australia asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to review the sport in 2020.

This led to the Change the Routine report in May last year, which found that coaching practices pose a “risk of abuse and harm” to athletes.

Ms Quigley said the results and Gymnastics Australia’s response gave hope to survivors.

“The surviving community realized it was time to move the needle and it looked like things were moving forward,” she said.

In late 2020, Gymnastics Australia announced in its annual report that it was joining the National Redress Scheme.

On average, this process takes three to six months.

A dark-haired woman is standing inside, holding a report.
Alison Quigley says survivors were relieved to hear Gymnastics Australia was joining the programme.(Delivered: Alison Quigley)

A promise made but not yet kept

Ms Quigley said she had no reason to believe Gymnastics Australia would take longer to apply than others, so she waited around six months before applying to the program in mid-2021.

A black and white image of a teenager doing gymnastics.
Alison Quigley competed among an elite in the 1980s.(Delivered: Alison Quigley)

“At first I thought, ‘Oh that’s funny, it doesn’t show up in the search terms’ — [unlike] when you look at institutions that have signed up. It must be an administrative error,” she said.

But two years after she first expressed her intention to enroll in the scheme and 18 months since Ms Quigley applied, there has been no word from Gymnastics Australia.

“If you think about what survivors went through, if you think about the abuse and how they reported it to the associations … they didn’t do anything – there’s no trust,” she said.

“We have all this kind of silence and guarding and privacy.

“We’re not identifying individuals here, so I don’t really understand why the process needs to be top secret.”

Work in progress, says Gymnastics Australia

Gymnastics Australia has been contacted by the ABC several times for comment on its progress.

It declined to explain the cause of the delays or give any message to the survivors waiting to join the redress system.

A spokeswoman confirmed Gymnastics Australia had sent a letter of intent and was “working with the program to complete the onboarding and assessment process”.

The Department for Social Services controls the scheme and would not discuss Gymnastics Australia over privacy restrictions.

A spokesman said the department has remained in touch with institutions even if they are unable to meet the program’s financial or legal requirements should that change in the future.

“The program understands that waiting for institutions to join the program can be a difficult and traumatic experience,” he said.

A dark-haired woman in a leotard performs a gymnastic maneuver on a balance beam.
Alison Quigley in her thirties at the 2009 Masters Games in Geelong.(Delivered: Alison Quigley)

Ms Quigley has started a parliamentary petition in hopes of driving change in the sport, which she continues to adore despite the pain it has caused her.

“I guess I have two hearts because I love the sport,” she said.

“We were there for the joy – the joy of flying and the thrill of being so coordinated and excited to just fly through the air unabated.

“What we really need to get a grip on is how we manage this sport.

“We must do better than we are at the moment to ensure the safety of the children.”

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