One of Australia’s most prominent politicians, a current cabinet minister, has been accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988. Last year his alleged victim took her own life. Crikey has decided not to publish the woman’s name. She will be referred to from this point as Jane Doe.
The details of that night have been shared with politicians including Prime Minister Scott Morrison through an impassioned letter written by Jane’s friends and Jane’s detailed police statement (submitted in 2020 to NSW Police).
Crikey has seen both these documents, including photos of diary entries from the years shortly after the alleged attack. Crikey has spoken to the lawyer who helped her write her statement, Michael Bradley (who writes on legal matters for this publication), and to three of Jane’s friends who knew her when she was a student and have requested anonymity.
One friend said he was made aware of the alleged attack several months after it happened. All believe Jane wanted the issue to be made public and wanted justice. For risk of defamation, Crikey can’t go into details that would identify the alleged rapist. He will be called John Doe from this point.
Rape, and especially historic rape, is not an easy issue to write on. It’s estimated that around 13% of victims of sexual assault report it to the police. Less than a third of those reports lead to legal action. The fact that rape is gendered, the fact it often occurs in private, and the fact it usually happens between two people who have a prior relationship make conventional forms of legal recourse difficult.
While Jane’s statement only shows us her delayed recollection of what happened that night, it does show a pattern of what one expert has called “textbook” predatory behaviour, with John Doe allegedly attempting to control, domineer and gaslight his victim. Jane, like many who experience sexual assault, suffered for decades from poor mental health.
The alleged crime against Jane cannot be fully investigated and will likely not go to a criminal trial. Crikey hopes that by publishing details of the allegations, other potential victims might recognise this pattern.
Violence against women advocacy group Our Watch was consulted prior to writing this piece.
Jane has been described by friends as a bright, fastidious student who at the time considered her alleged abuser a friend and potential partner.
The pair first met in 1986 and again in 1987 in Adelaide when Jane was 15 at a national school competition. The group of students travelling together became close friends, socialising, dancing and studying together.
While the group was close, one friend told Crikey that John Doe had an “arrogant” side to him and as competitions intensified he would become mean.
“[Jane] talked about how she was shocked because she’d imagine that everyone was friendly, and yet the way that [John] was behaving towards it was not as a friend would behave,” she said.
“I think that was the first inkling she had that he was not what she had thought that he was.”
John would make callous remarks at women, Jane wrote. She recalled him saying she didn’t “have the tits” to wear a bikini, and joking that the alfalfa sprouts on her salad made it look like she was “eating sperm”.
But later he would flatter Jane, complimenting her — and himself. According to Jane’s statement, he asked her to iron a shirt he wanted to wear.
“You would make a wonderful wife one day,” he said. He called her “so smart and so pretty”, capable of doing “all the good housewife things”.
One friend, who reviewed a statement by Jane that was longer than the one submitted to police, said Jane had outlined more controlling behaviours by John throughout this time.
“From my understanding, there was a lot of controlling and manipulating behaviour that led up to this, that it wasn’t a spontaneous drunken event,” he said.
Crikey has not viewed the initial draft of the statement.
John bragged about how he was going to be prime minister by the time he was 50 adding that he needed a smart, pretty wife to help his political career. Jane said, based on these comments, she believed the pair would one day marry.
Bragging and bravado, oscillating between criticism and flattering: these behaviours, according to CEO of Women’s Safety NSW Hayley Foster, are flags for abuse.
“Research has consistently found that men who hold traditional, hierarchical views about gender roles and relationships are more likely to perpetrate violence against women,” she said.
Foster said that asserting dominance was a big factor; it leads to a sense of ownership and entitlement to a woman, including for sexual gratification and exploitation. She believes lying, bragging and chipping away at Jane’s self-esteem could have been John asserting his dominance.
“The pattern of flattery and approval followed by denigration and derogation is also textbook,” she said.“This is done to reinforce the expectation as to how she should look and act, but it is also done to coercively control her in other ways.”
Jane believed she was drugged by John on the night of January 9, 1988.
A 2020 report found that 50% of women who have been sexually assaulted believe alcohol or another substance contributed to their abuse. Four in five sexual assaults are committed by people known to the victim.
After dancing in Kings Cross, Jane — who said she was in a dissociative state — agreed to a non-penetrative sex act propositioned by John. Jane wrote that she agreed to the act because she had been hurt by John’s comments about her body.
He then allegedly violently forced Jane into performing oral sex on him despite her saying no. Jane said he kicked her to the ground and wrapped his hands around her neck.
Later, she said he bathed her thoroughly, dressed her and comforted her as she fell asleep telling her it was “all a bad dream”.
She said she woke to John anally raping her. He allegedly raped her twice without a condom.
“The only thing that I remember [John] saying to me was that was ‘I don’t want to get you pregnant’,” Jane wrote.
The next day, Jane said John joked about how the night “might have been different” if he had a condom before referring to his “good Catholic girlfriend” back home.
“It is common for an offender to either deny or make light of their violent and abusive conduct,” Foster said.
“This can be a reflection of a sense of entitlement to behave in such a manner, but also a deliberate tactic to gaslight the victim into thinking nothing untoward had happened, or worse still, that she was to blame in some way.”
Jane wrote in her statement she felt shame and guilt the next day but believed it would be okay as the pair were going to get married.
The last time Jane saw John was in 1994 where she said he made “various inappropriate remarks” to her. She said John was wearing a piece of plastic tied around his left wrist put there by his girlfriend as a reminder not to kiss other girls, and joked about being the “oldest fresher on campus” at university.
He allegedly propositioned her, telling Jane “you know you owe me one”. Jane, who was dating someone at the time, called her boyfriend.
“I felt shaken but relieved as if I had broken a spell that had been cast some seven years earlier,” she wrote.
A turning point
Jane lived with the allegation for 30 years. Feelings of shame and guilt are common in survivors; 57% of victims experience anxiety and fear in the year after the assault.
One male friend, who met her around six months after the alleged assault said Jane spoke about experiencing a “serious and traumatic event” which he assumed to be a form of sexual assault.
“For many years, we’ve had many discussions around many aspects of her being assaulted and the damage that it did without her identifying who it was,” he said.
“At no occasion did she ever contradict herself or was she ever inconsistent.”
Jane had been a high achiever. School captain. Dux. She was incredibly smart, being accepted to school teams earlier than most students and was the “brightest star” out of the school team, friends said.
But Jane struggled, suffering from mental illness and substance abuse which intensified as she went into university. In one study, 45% of survivors of sexual assault reported having a drinking problem in the year before the survey.
“She did go on to experience real challenges with her mental health,” one friend said. They added that Jane believed her mental health issues were linked to her alleged assault. While Jane still worked and studied, friends say she never had a career of longevity or finished her PhD.
After seeking counselling from both a psychologist and a psychiatrist in 2019, Jane decided to make her allegations public. She reached out to friends who were around her in 1988. These messages, sent between 2018 and 2019, have been seen by Crikey. The three friends Crikey spoke to reject the idea that the memory could be false.
“The level of ancillary detail … the sidebars and the interpersonal things that she commented on, some of them I know to be true and some of them ring very true,” one friend said.
The three friends Crikey spoke to said Jane was determined and resolved in telling her story. Her parents reportedly only found out about the allegation in 2019 and they do not believe that it is true.
“She needed to do this to move on with her life … she had spent a long time trying to bury it to get past it without confronting it,” one friend said. “She had made a rational calculation about doing it because she couldn’t see a way past it or through it for herself.”
“She was fully aware that it would bring enormous scrutiny to her,” another friend said. “There was a real desire to get some kind of resolution and peace.”
Jane also spoke to Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong and wrote a letter to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Crikey understand the cabinet minister has not contacted any of the friends or schoolmates named in the letter sent to politicians.
But Jane’s efforts were stalled. Due to the pandemic, the NSW police she had originally made a statement with couldn’t travel to Adelaide to interview her. Friends say Cardinal George Pell’s case in the High Court concerned her. She later checked herself into a psychiatric clinic in Melbourne.
Hours before killing herself she called NSW Police, reportedly to tell them she would not be proceeding with the case. One friend told Crikey he did not believe she retracted her statement.
The friend said Jane didn’t want her allegation to become a party political issue.
“My fear is this becoming a partisan political Labor versus Liberal issue — that actually no one will care about her.”
The cabinet minister did not respond to Crikey‘s questions by deadline.
Survivors of abuse can find support by calling Bravehearts at 1800 272 831 or the Blue Knot Foundation at 1300 657 380. The Kids Helpline is 1800 55 1800.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.