Four of the 22 teenage girls who were groomed or raped by an Illawarra referee have told him of the mental scars his predatory crimes had left on them.
The women spoke of feeling violated, as well as shame and guilt, after Dale Whiteman used his connections as a referee to meet young girls.
The Tarrawanna man, who is on remand in custody, would also contact friends of other girls he groomed.
Whiteman would communicate with the girls on social media or via text message before turning the conversation sexual. His 22 victims were aged between 13 and 16 while he was in his 20s and early 30s.
Some of the women felt it was important to tell Whiteman about the hurt he caused them but also the resilience and strength they had despite his depraved and manipulative crimes.
The survivors, who are legally unable to be named, spoke out during a sentencing hearing in Wollongong District Court on Thursday.
"As a teenager I saw nothing wrong with what the accused was doing. I felt loved and needed. As an adult I see I was manipulated over and over again," one woman said before adding, "one could even say my innocence was stolen."
"I felt violated. I felt it was my fault even though it wasn't. I felt mentally hurt and mentally scarred," another woman said.
"I am a survivor and a warrior and so are all the other girls who are here and are standing up."
Whiteman pleaded guilty to 15 charges including having sexual intercourse with a person aged 14 to 16, possessing child abuse material, aggravated indecent assault and using a carriage service to groom a child under 16 years for sex.
Pattern of behaviour
In agreed facts tendered to court, many of the girls told police Whiteman would begin with general conversation that turned sexual and he would "badger" and "nag" them for sexually explicit photos despite them initially refusing to send the images.
His crimes escalated and he sexually touched or convinced some of the girls to have sex with him.
Whiteman's perverted behaviour continued until his early 30s when he was arrested on December 11, 2019 after he started talking to a 13-year-old girl on Instagram.
Whiteman came under the notice of police after the girl's friends notified their school principal.
Whiteman was granted bail but re-arrested on March 2 last year, after another girl came forward with details of her alleged sexual abuse and he was charged with more offences.
He was slapped with more charges after police uncovered a dossier of child abuse material on a USB storage device.
The 71 folders were labelled with girls' names and images. Inside the folders were screenshots from sexual conversations he had with girls as well as photos of them naked or in their underwear.
"I am a survivor'
The mental scars have plagued the women with many suffering from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts over the years.
Some of the women spoke about their need to see psychologists to help them cope with their trauma and now found it difficult to trust other people.
The women spoke about how their personalities changed after their experience with Whiteman, the effect it had on their families as well as the ongoing struggles they had with talking to new people, especially males, and in social settings.
Two of the women also said they needed to protect their own children from predators.
The first woman said she partly forgave Whiteman, not for him, but for herself so she could "heal and get my full power back".
"I am getting stronger. Yes, it is going to stay with me for the rest of my life but it doesn't mean I am going to let it ruin my life," she said.
The second woman spoke about how her experience with Whiteman "robbed [her] of a regular teenage experience".
"I am a survivor of sexual assault. As a 14-year-old girl I was made to feel loved by a man who was to take advantage of me," she said.
"At such a young age these events were hard to process and with no support, it left me feeling extremely confused, lonely and vulnerable."
Whiteman's crimes against her impacted her schooling and her family as she felt she had to keep a secret, causing her to withdraw "from the happy person I once was".
"As I got older, living with this secret caused great discomfort and resulted in placing the blame on myself," she said.
"I developed significant trust issues and struggle to believe I am worth more than the damage this has done to me. I see the world a little darker now and often wish for the time back these experiences have consumed."
The third woman spoke about how, to the outside, it would seem Whiteman's actions would not have impacted her but in reality his crimes affect her every day.
"One minute I was a happy active little girl, then the next I was closed off and angry at the world," she said. "I grew up very quickly.
"I am stronger than the accused thought I was. My strength and the support of others are the only reason I am still standing here today.
"I am no longer that broken little girl. I am a grown woman who knows that what this man has done to many others just like me was wrong. I am a victim."
The fourth woman remembered Whiteman as a "pest and predator".
"When I first received a call from the investigating detective, I felt both sick and relieved. The day had finally come when Dale Whiteman's crimes had come to a head and [he was] to be punished," she told the court.
The woman said she felt "entirely violated and used" when she discovered the dossier Whiteman had collected, and felt in shock and angry about the "complete violation of privacy".
"I cannot help feel a sense of shame as if I should have done something sooner; as though I really should have known that the way Dale spoke and made me uncomfortable was indeed grooming and a criminal offence."
Two other women also gave victim impact statements that were read in closed court.
'I was very selfish'
Whiteman said he was "deeply regretful" for the harm he caused his victims when he gave evidence from Goulburn Correction Centre.
"I hope you can all get on with your lives as best you can as I endeavour to do the same," he said.
Whiteman said being arrested in March 2020 "completely changed my outlook on life".
"I wasn't happy in my own life. I was in a situation where I was constantly feeling self doubt, low self-esteem and many suicidal thoughts," he said.
He also spoke of the difficult experience he had faced being in jail during the COVID pandemic.
When asked in cross-examination whether he thought about the impact his crimes had had on the girls he said, "I was very selfish. I put my needs ahead of anyone else and I deeply regret that".
"I was a very lonely person. I sought acceptance and self-esteem boost by acquaintances met through sport.
"The attraction was never about the age specifically. It was more so the availability for me to chat to these [people of those ages] because they were less likely to be out at pubs, parties or clubs."
Whiteman also acknowledged he lied about his identity because he knew the girls would not reciprocate his sexual advances due to his age, and was aware of their ages yet still continued to groom and abuse them.
Crown prosecutor Mark Rollestone asked Judge Haesler to question Whiteman's evidence that he was interested in young girls "out of convenience" rather than a sexual motive.
"He was clearly motivated by a sexual interest in children, particularly as he grew into an adult and man in his 30s," he said.
Mr Rollestone also asked Judge Haesler to take a "guarded" view of Whiteman's prospects of rehabilitation.
Defence barrister Scott Fraser submitted Whiteman had expressed "genuine remorse", "full responsibility for the harm caused" and "insight into the negative impact of his offending".
He also noted Whiteman wanted to engage in the appropriate treatment to address the issues, which include self control and low self-esteem, so he did not commit further crimes.
Mr Fraser said he would also likely need to engage in a sex offender program before being released as well as have ongoing counselling while on parole.
The case was adjourned to October 15 for sentence.
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