Survivor tells her story of teenage abuse

·4-min read

Lee McIntosh will never forget the night a woman knocked at her door and said "my son's done something to your daughter".

It was 1994 and her 13-year-old, Taryn, had gone to stay the night with a school friend in suburban Melbourne.

But the eighth-grader returned home early and had to be physically supported by her friend's mum.

Slumped in a way that made her look like a "floppy doll", Taryn Claut claimed she had been raped by her friend's 20-year-old brother.

"It was the most horrifying thing for a mother to go through," Ms McIntosh told AAP.

"To think that someone's done that to your little girl and that you've put or allowed them to be in an unsafe environment.

"I've carried that guilt with me all this time ... Who are you if you can't protect your children?"

Her mother trusted their parents. But they were out at the time.

Ms Claut said she got "ridiculously drunk'' with her friend and her friend's two older brothers before one of them put her to bed.

She says she woke to being raped and recalled there was blood on her skirt.

"I can only describe (it) as being terrifying and shocking," she told police.

Now aged 40, she says her friend saw what was happening but was too scared to intervene.

Ms Claut also says her attacker put his hands up her skirt while she threw up in a toilet.

That attacker was tried four times before being found guilty in April this year of attempted rape.

The jury couldn't reach a verdict on an additional charge of rape, after which it was discontinued.

The man received a two-year suspended jail term in Victoria's County Court. This allowed him to serve his sentence in the community.

"Trying to violate anyone, let alone such a vulnerable 13-year-old girl, is reprehensible," Judge Scott Johns said.

"She was, and continues to be, deeply traumatised by your offending."

Ms Claut stayed silent until October 2016 when, racked by night terrors, she reported what happened to police.

She had for 22 years suffered from depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There's not really a part of my life that hasn't been touched by the assault," Ms Claut said.

"I don't know what happened that night but I woke up and just thought, 'f*** it, I can't do this anymore'."

The police acted quickly.

They instructed Ms Claut to make a "pretext call'.

She contacted the man and told him her name was Taryn and that she used to be friends with his sister. She then detailed the allegations.

"And then he just says, 'oh well if you say I did, then I did, and I'm sorry about that'," Ms Claut said.

"He was so nonchalant about such a massive accusation and it made me think - how many people has this happened to? Am I just a number?

"It just blew me away that someone could be so casual about it."

About this time her mum revealed that the man had in the mid-1990s written to her, apologising for "what he did to Taryn".

Ms McIntosh had never mentioned the letter to her daughter, opting instead to stash it in her car boot as Taryn appeared to have moved on.

She left it there for about six years, thinking the matter would never be investigated.

"I didn't want to keep the letter in my possession, it was like poison. So I threw it out ... and I really regret doing that," Ms McIntosh said.

Ms Clout also dug up a year 10 personal reflection piece in which she detailed what happened.

Victoria Police found the teacher who marked the essay and were prepared to put them forward as a witness.

All three pieces of evidence were approved at Ms Claut's committal 2018 hearing, at which the man was charged with rape and sexual penetration of a minor.

But none were permitted as evidence before a trial jury.

It was simply her word against his.

She sat through three jury trials from 2019 to 2021.

During one, the defence barrister asked her if it was possible his client "fell onto her".

After the third trial returned a hung verdict, prosecutors filed amended charges and the man was convicted of attempted rape.

"When I heard the sentence I just burst into tears," Ms Clout said.

"I was so happy because it's real - there are consequences for him."

She believes historical rape and sexual assault cases need to be heard in judge-alone trials, rather than before a jury.

But she encourages other survivors - both men and women - to come forward.

"Just make sure you have the right support systems in place because it's a long, harrowing journey and the system can be stacked against you," Ms Claut said.

"You might not get this grand outcome like you see on Netflix but if you hang in there it can be done."

The Victorian Law Reform Commission is currently considering restorative and alternative justice models for sexual offences.

The inquiry is due to report on August 31.

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