Former child gymnasts who reported allegations of physical and psychological abuse have rejected an attempt at reconciliation by Gymnastics Australia (GA) because the governing body asked them to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
The female gymnasts and their families have condemned the NDA as, effectively, a gag order, saying they are baffled by the invitation to the restorative meeting when GA was yet to publicly acknowledge a litany of abuse complaints.
"Justice has to be seen to be done, it has to be transparent," said Stieve de Lance, the mother of former elite gymnast, Trinity, who claims an intense training load led to broken vertebra at the age of 12.
"Otherwise, it's a tree falling in the gymnastics forest."
In May last year, the ABC aired a series of allegations made by former gymnasts about psychological and sexual mistreatment.
Days later, an independent review into gymnastics in Australia was released, exposing a culture of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, dating back decades.
The report by the Australian Human Rights Commission forced GA to unreservedly apologise to athletes.
Then, in September, the newly-established Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) began interviewing 35 complainants with recent abuse allegations.
Seven were investigated, four of which were "neither substantiated or unsubstantiated", including complaints by Trinity de Lance.
Then, "out of the blue" — as Stieve de Lance described it — complainants received an invitation to be a part of GA's Restorative Engagement Program.
In the letter, obtained by the ABC, complainants are offered "an opportunity to share the experience and for the impacts to be personally acknowledged by a senior representative of Gymnastics Australia, in a meeting led by an experienced and independent restorative facilitator".
The letter also states: "While participants are free to share that a meeting occurred, they cannot share the content or details about what was said. Everyone will be asked to agree to this in advance by signing a plain-language non-disclosure agreement."
'It's not what we were looking for'
"So you can maybe have some restoration, a conversation with us but it all has to be secret," Stieve de Lance said.
"It occurred to me that those of us who've been through the SIA process are no longer in the sport and, therefore … we can say what we want for the first time in our lives. We have a voice.
"It struck me as a way of them gaining back some measure of control over the voice that we have fought so hard to have … and to have that removed for no perceivable outcome seemed quite calculating."
Trinity de Lance said the psychological and physical abuse she suffered started at the age of just six.
"It's not what we're looking for," she said.
"Like, you're saying, 'Sorry', but then we can't let anyone know that you're saying sorry."
"It just shows how far [GA] want to go to blow over this whole situation."
Donna-Louise Wilson and her daughter, Jamie, were also interviewed by SIA over allegations that Jamie was left traumatised by months of psychological abuse by her coach in 2017 and 2018.
Their complaints were found to be unsubstantiated last year, before recently being offered a part in the restorative engagement program.
Donna-Louise Wilson questioned how a restorative process could take place when her daughter's alleged abuse had not been acknowledged.
"How can you have a restorative process on offer to a 10-year-old abuse victim?" Ms Wilson asked.
"They're not of an age of understanding to be signing an NDA. As a parent, do I sign it on their part?
"So, for Gymnastics Australia to offer [the restorative meeting] … is illogical. It's offensive and I'd actually call it an egregious act, because the way Gymnastics Australia is behaving is egregious."
Roger Singh, Shine Lawyers' national litigation specialist, said an NDA is "akin to a gag order" and is designed to silence allegations of abuse.
"In my view, an NDA in these circumstances serves no useful purpose other than to add insult to injury," Mr Singh said.
"Survivors of abuse are always reluctant to come forward and they feel they have to remain silent. So, an NDA just perpetuates that feeling of 'Don't tell'."
This type of restorative approach, Mr Singh added, was not independent and served to make the institution feel better about itself.
"It's important that any process is considered to be impartial and independent, without the organisation having control of how things are to be run … [and] how the story is to be shared."
The ABC requested an interview with GA chief executive Alexandra Ash but the request was declined.
Instead, GA provided this statement:
Gymnastics Australia's Restorative Engagement Program was a first for Australian sport. Developed in partnership with experts from Victoria University of Wellington, the program has been designed to provide the following:
- A platform for individuals or groups of individuals to formally convey their personal experiences as an athlete/support person, to be individually acknowledged by Gymnastics Australia; and,
- Inform prospective changes to procedures, guidelines and behaviours within our control.
The purpose of the NDA is to create a safe space for open and robust conversations, rather than silence an individual. It is to ensure that both parties have a clear understanding of the importance of respecting the intimate details of what may be shared, establishing confidentiality within the scope of the interview.
Whilst we will not comment on the specific details, we have had a number of individuals accept the offer to participate in the program.
This process is to provide individuals with the opportunity to engage directly with senior leadership, to receive a tailored apology, to voice ideas for change and have them heard by someone in a position to influence change within the sport.
'We need accountability'
Donna-Louise Wilson said the SIA investigation was unfair and that nothing had changed, despite the invitation for reconciliation.
"It's almost like they want to just bring closure to it, have it signed off, sweep it under the carpet, when we're still knocking on the door, asking for acknowledgement, asking for transparency," she said.
"Even though an investigation has taken place, it was not transparent, it was fraught with problems and it yielded illogical and unreasonable results."
Ms Wilson, Stieve de Lance and a group of two other families are considering legal action.
Some form of compensation could be a part of that legal action.
"We are not done," Stieve de Lance said.
"We will never be done until Gymnastics Australia acknowledges that they were wrong and that they need to put this right because, until we do, no one else is safe.
"This is not just about my daughter, this is about everybody's child."