16 February 2023

Para-athlete sues sports body over alleged sexual abuse at AIS

| Albert McKnight

An employee of the Australian Institute of Sport has launched a civil claim in the courts. Photo: Sport Performance Centres.

CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to alleged sexual abuse.

A high-performance para-athlete is suing a federal government sporting body over allegations that she was sexually assaulted by a colleague at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

Kayla Dee Powell has brought her allegations against the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in what her lawyers believe to be among the first claims of its kind filed against the organisation.

“We allege the institution charged with helping her live her dreams ended up crushing them, and that the ASC, as the governing body of the AIS, failed in its duty of care to protect our client from her abuser,” Shine Lawyers solicitor Thomas Wallace-Pannell said.

Ms Powell, a 24-year-old with cerebral palsy, was a high-performance para-athlete contracted to train at the AIS who also worked there part-time, documents filed with the ACT Supreme Court say.

She alleged a colleague at the institute, who was in a more senior position to her, sexually or physically assaulted her on four occasions over several months in 2020.

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It is alleged he sexually assaulted her when they were in his car in the car park near the AIS on two occasions.

Also, when she was locking up an AIS facility one night, it is alleged he physically restrained her without her consent then sexually assaulted her.

Ms Powell claims she continues to suffer damages, injury and loss due to the alleged abuse.

She argued that as a member of the high-performance training program and an employee of the AIS, the ASC owed her a duty of care, which included taking steps to avoid foreseeable risks of harm, such as the risk of abuse by those it employed.

Ms Powell claims the ASC breached its duty in several ways, including by failing to protect her from alleged sexual assault, failing to supervise her and failing to adequately enquire about its employees’ suitability to work with vulnerable para-athletes and employees.

In the documents, her lawyers claim that her colleague’s position was “one of almost authority” over her and argued that the ASC knew or ought to have known that she was at risk of being abused.

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Mr Wallace-Pannell, who represents Ms Powell in the claim, alleged both the AIS and ASC had failed her.

He said the aim of the lawsuit was to obtain a sense of justice for her for what she had allegedly experienced, while also to cast a light over alleged issues in the AIS.

The ASC was contacted for comment, but a representative said as this is currently a legal matter, it will not be commenting at this stage.

The matter was heard in court earlier this month and returns for a listings hearing on 13 July. Ms Powell’s lawyers say she has consented to being identified.

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