It was the emails that prompted him to go to the police.
He had been searching through his account, looking for, of all things, the login details to an old MySpace page.
It was meant to be something fun — a chance to laugh at a “cringey” social media page he had created as a teen.
But instead, he found a piece of his childhood he had long repressed.
Warning: This story contains references to child sex abuse.
There, right in front of him, were emails from the man who had sexually assaulted him when he was just 14 years old.
“I pretty much decided to go to the police when I found those emails, like almost instantly,” he remembers.
It started a legal process spanning more than two years that led to well-known Collingwood cheer squad member Jeffrey “Joffa” Corfe pleading guilty in the Victorian County Court in September of last year to one count of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16.
Corfe was today sentenced to 12 months’ prison, wholly suspended for two years.
The victim’s identity was suppressed throughout the court process — a legal protection provided to all sexual assault complainants.
But now, for the first time, he is identifying himself and speaking out.
His name is Alex Case, and he wants you to hear his story.
The story of how a man who had been celebrated as a “cult” football figure caused such deep harm to him as a child, that he is still today dealing with the trauma.
The story of a two-year battle through our justice system which left him traumatised all over again.
And the story of how he sat silent, and in shock, after he learnt his perpetrator would not be going to jail.
“For [Corfe] to have a wholly suspended sentence … considering what he did to me and how it’s affected my life, it feels like he has gotten away with it,” Alex says.
This is the story Alex is telling, not because it is easy to tell, not because he wants to punish anyone, and not because he wants to put himself in the public spotlight.
“I am not doing this for my own benefit, I am dragging myself over the coals doing this,” he says.
But he is doing it, because after all he has been through — the assault, the court case, the shock of the sentence — he wants to stand up for male sexual assault survivors.
And to do that, he needs us to listen.
‘Have we already met?’
The emails were from a man who said his name was David Winston and that he lived in Coburg.
They met on MSN messenger, but then started emailing back and forth.
In the first email, Alex says he is 15, male and from Pascoe Vale.
Alex had bumped his age up by a year to sound more mature — but still he had made it clear he was an underage child.
In the emails, David tells Alex he remembers their online chats but later asks: “Was wondering have we already met?”
Quite quickly, David makes references to oral sex in his emails.
Again and again, he’ll say how much he likes giving oral sex.
And in each of Alex’s emails nothing is said of this.
David tells Alex it’s cool if they just chat, but later will organise for the teen to come to his house.
When Alex reads these emails again as an adult, he remembers how uncomfortable the sexual references made him feel.
But he also remembers what it was he was seeking online.
“I didn’t have any friends that were struggling with their sexuality,” he says.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and nor was I ready to, to tell anyone anyway, so I think that’s what kind of turns it into this secret sort of thing.”
On the internet he had been trying to figure out who he was, to find other gay people, people he could talk to.
After the assault this would become another reason why he felt he couldn’t tell anyone what had happened.
Michael Salter is a criminologist at the University of NSW who researches the trauma associated with child sexual abuse.
He says LGBTIQ children can be particularly vulnerable to abuse.
“They are more likely to be confused and insecure about their sexuality and this can be manipulated by perpetrators who are adept at identifying vulnerable children,” he says.
Looking back on those emails as an adult, Alex says he can also see the vulnerability of his young age.
He was, he now can see, a teenager who thought he was more grown up than he really was.
“In hindsight, it was obviously a whole bunch of immaturity and probably combined with that … the fact that I was confident that I could look after myself,” he says.
“I just figured I knew more than I actually did and I was more independent than I probably was.”
But the truth was, he wasn’t independent and he wasn’t old enough to make adult decisions, because he was just a 14-year-old kid trying to figure out who he was.
So when “David” told him to come over, he did.
Years of trauma
Alex remembers a feeling of shame setting in the minute he left David’s house after the sexual assault.
“When I was leaving his house he kind of slapped me on the butt and said ‘See ya mate.'” Alex recalls.
“And I was laughing, like I laughed, because as soon as I stepped outside that front door I was terrified of anyone noticing that there was something wrong and so I pretended like it was no big deal.”
When he arrived home, the house was empty.
“I remember just collapsing on the floor in the living room and just screaming ‘Why? Why did you do that,'” Alex says.
That self-blame, he says, made it impossible to talk to anyone about what had happened.
“I couldn’t tell my parents what happened, I couldn’t tell my friends, the rest of my family, couldn’t go to the police because I thought I did the wrong thing,” he says.
Later, he did send David a text, telling the older man that he shouldn’t do that to young people. David agreed.
It was the only way that Alex felt he could address what happened.
It was after that message, he says, that the assault moved into a locked part of his brain.
“It was kind of this glass box filled with fog,” he explains.
“In the back of my mind, always, always like it was a bad thing.”
Michael Salter says most child sexual abuse survivors will experience fragmented and disorganised memories of the abuse.
“Fear, shock, pain, confusion or shame can result in amnesia or avoidance of abuse memories,” he explains.
“Remembering the extent of abuse is often a process that unfolds over time, and may be triggered by unexpected events.”
When the ABC meets Alex, he is speaking from one of his favourite places.
The kitchen has become a place he goes to relax — baking has been one of the small things that has helped him through difficult times.
But he also knows that even during the years he was not conscious of the abuse, that “foggy” part of his past impacted on nearly every aspect of his life.
When he moved schools he found it extremely difficult to make friends, even though the other students tried to get to know him.
“In my mind I would be like ‘I don’t know why people try to be friends with me’ and I would kind of push them away because I didn’t think that I deserved anything really good,” Alex says.
At university, and then later when he was working, he struggled with his mental health without understanding why.
“I just put it down to me being defective, like a defective human because there was no reason for me to feel the way I did,” he says.
That “bad thing” in his past stripped him of self-confidence and made everything from work, to maintaining relationships, difficult.
But it was only as an adult, when he accidentally stumbled across those emails, that Alex could finally see where the blame lay – with a man who at 45, sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy.
And it wasn’t until he began searching online for the email and phone number that he had for “David” that he finally learnt who it really was, who had assaulted him.
His name was Jeffrey Corfe and he had long been a well-known member of the Collingwood Football Club’s cheer squad. Alex, who doesn’t follow football, had no idea.
A two-year legal process
After Alex made a report to the police he experienced one of the hardest periods in his life.
The pandemic had begun, he wasn’t living close enough to his family to see them, and he was dealing with traumatic memories that had long been repressed.
There was one very special social worker who stood by him during those dark days.
“If I’m completely honest, she’s probably the reason why I’m here today,” he says.
But when she moved to another job, he found it difficult to access the support he needed.
“It was particularly hard when there were ones that I would have found helpful, but they were for women only,” he says.
In December of 2021 a committal hearing was held for the case against Corfe.
It is a type of hearing held for serious charges — where prosecutors need to prove they have sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.
The lead-up to that hearing was stressful.
Alex was meant to have a meeting with the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP), the barrister who would prosecute the case, and a support worker where they would explain how the court process would run.
“But that kept getting pushed back and delayed because someone wasn’t available, it happened a couple of times and in the end, I ended up having that conference 30 minutes before I had to give evidence,” he says.
In that conference, Alex says, he realised he needed to make small changes to some of the minor details in his statement.
But, because the conference had been held so late, it meant he was making amendments to his statement right up until the minute before he began giving evidence.
He didn’t even have time to re-read his entire statement.
In a statement, the OPP said their solicitor had “ongoing contact with the victim about the case from an early stage in proceedings, including four legal conferences (telephone or Zoom) prior to the committal hearing”.
“We acknowledge that, for many victims, the process of preparing to give evidence in court proceedings, and giving evidence, can be very stressful,” the statement read.
“The OPP takes its obligations to victims very seriously, and endeavours to ensure that victims are adequately supported prior to and while giving evidence.”
Alex says he entered that committal process with a level of confidence.
“I went there on the day naively thinking that I had nothing to worry about because I am not lying, I am telling the truth,” he says.
“But as I discovered, it is not that black and white.”
Cross-examination is the part of the criminal justice process that sexual assault victims often find most distressing.
It is an important part of our adversarial criminal justice system and allows legal representatives for an accused person to question a witness.
There are rules in Victoria which govern what can and cannot be asked of a sexual assault complainant.
But still, victims report the distress of going back over an alleged assault and of feeling like they need to defend themselves.
Alex says he understood Corfe’s barrister was just doing his job, but that he found it distressing to be asked questions he felt implied he had lied.
“I gave evidence for two hours, during that I almost passed out from the stress three times,” he says.
He says he was questioned about whether he understood the meaning of the word perjury, if he had issues with his memory and about whether he was a football fan.
When it was all over, Alex says, he burst into tears.
“It was a pretty severely traumatic thing to go through and it just added almost a similar amount of stuff on my plate as the assault,” he says.
Corfe’s barrister, Christopher Terry declined to speak to the ABC.
The ABC is not suggesting Alex’s cross-examination was conducted improperly.
A weight lifted
It was in November of 2022 that Corfe pleaded guilty to a charge of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16.
There had been a sentence indication hearing, where an accused person is able to ask the court what the likely punishment would be if they plead guilty.
Alex had been told he could provide a victim impact statement to the judge to consider, which would outline the impact of the assault on his life.
But there was a catch.
If Corfe decided to continue on with the case, that statement could be used in a trial as part of a cross-examination in that hearing.
After his experience at the committal hearing, Alex didn’t want to do anything to make a second cross-examination longer or harder.
He says it meant he felt like he couldn’t say everything he wanted to.
When Alex was told what the sentence would be, he was devastated.
Corfe had been told he would receive a 12-month prison sentence that would be wholly suspended for two years if he pleaded guilty, which he did.
“He can call on his good character and in his case his significant contributions to the community in asking for a merciful sentence for what was a one-off event,” Judge Gerard Mullaly said at the time.
Before that hearing, Corfe’s lawyers made a submission outlining why they believed a non-custodial sentence would be “within range”.
The defence told the court Corfe had been raised by parents who “were both violent alcoholics” and he had been “subject to abuse and mistreatment at home”.
From the age of 14 he lived rough on the streets, and his lawyers said at the age of 16 he was assaulted by a group of older men at a boarding house in Hawthorn.
Despite the trauma he has felt during the legal process, Alex was still determined to stand up in court and read his victim impact statement to Corfe at a hearing last week.
Standing tall, Alex faced Corfe and explained the years of harm he had caused by sexually assaulting him.
Alex’s dad had sat, intently watching Corfe, as his son spoke.
Afterwards he hugged Alex and told him how proud he was of him.
For Alex, this was the one part of the justice process that brought healing.
“As soon as I read the last sentence of my victim impact statement in court I felt a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders, which surprised me,” he says.
Judge Mullaly delayed reading out the sentence for a week, saying he wanted time to consider what Alex had said.
At the final sentencing hearing today, Judge Mullaly emphasised how serious Corfe’s offending was.
The judge said the assault had a lasting impact on Alex’s life, but did conclude the offending was on the “mid-to-lower level of the spectrum of child abuse”.
“The crime is depraved and the impact is likely to be felt long term,” he said.
Judge Mullaly told the court he also considered mitigating factors submitted on Corfe’s behalf.
He described Corfe’s upbringing as “chaotic”, and said Corfe “endured poverty and neglect”.
The judge noted that Corfe had the support of his family, and also discussed his history of community work.
Father Bob Maguire wrote to the court that Corfe was a great supporter of the Reclink football league for the vulnerable.
“Joffa was a great support to my foundation in caring for the needs of the less fortunate,” he said.
Judge Mullaly said this work made the case “more unique”, but noted that “good works do not excuse your crime”.
The judge also considered Corfe’s serious heart issues and the state of his ill health, as well as a psychologist’s finding that Corfe was a low risk of reoffending.
As he handed down the suspended sentence, Judge Mullaly said Corfe would have been sentenced to a more than two years’ prison, with a minimum jail term of 14-months, if he had pleaded not guilty and then been found guilty by a jury.
He also said Corfe would be added to a sex offender registry.
‘More traumatic than the assault’
Victoria’s Victims of Crime Commissioner Fiona McCormack advocates for victims of crime, and for their recognition within the justice system.
She has deep concerns about the experiences of sexual assault survivors within our justice system.
“What is really concerning to me is that the constant theme is that victims feel that the system, that their experience of the justice system, was more traumatic than the assault itself,” she says.
She says our justice system is meant to address harm caused to victims, but often creates more.
“Very regularly, they are crucified – they come out of this process so traumatised and betrayed and it is absolutely cruel,” she says.
The advocate believes more could be done to support sexual assault complainants through a criminal trial, without compromising the fairness of the process to the accused.
She says it is time for legal representation to be funded for victims, who are often the only party involved in a criminal trial without their own legal representation.
“The state is represented, the accused is represented as they should be, everybody’s legal rights are protected except for the victim’s,” she says.
Ms McCormack also particularly concerned about how victim impact statements can be used.
“Victim impact statements are one of the only opportunities victims get to tell their story, to talk about how the crime impacted on them,” she says.
“And yet for so many, they either don’t get the chance or it is heavily redacted or they stymie the things they want to say in the case of a sentence indication … in case the case goes forward to trial.”
No end date
While the court case has been ongoing, Alex says he has had to put big parts of his life on hold.
There have been periods where he has needed to take long breaks from his work.
And times where it has been hard to do the things he finds fun and enjoyable.
Alex hopes the future holds more time for cooking, family and friends.
He is proud of how far he has come but also knows his trauma won’t disappear just because the criminal court case is over.
“It’s not something that can just be fixed after you go to a psychologist or whatever, it’s never going to be 100 per cent fixed,” he says.
His sentence is one without an end date.