Sex abuse inquiry: victims, survivors tell their story

BALLARAT glimpsed its long desired healing yesterday as the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into institutional sexual abuse heard the message of victims and survivors. 

In a scene familiar to observers of the inquiry so far, brave members of the community of victims supported each other, telling the inquiry that past crimes and concealment must serve as warnings for generations to come. 

With relief from the trauma of decades of abuse by priests, religious brothers and others in positions of authority now one step closer, members of the six-person parliamentary committee cried openly as they heard from four witnesses in public hearings at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute.

The names of infamous child abusers and their tragic crimes were again recorded as witnesses called for better accountability for religious institutions including the Catholic Church, criminal investigations of offenders not yet brought to justice and compensation for those impacted by the evil of abuse. 

Witnesses Philip Nagle, Carmel Moloney and Helen and Tim Watson drew sustained applause from friends and supporters who have walked the long road of recovery together. 

“I cannot forget, I cannot forgive. I am one of the survivors,” Mr Nagle told the inquiry during its first sitting in regional Victoria. 

Mrs Watson said members of the Catholic Church hierarchy who had hidden crimes of sexual abuse should be themselves considered for prosecution, saying it was “important as anything I can imagine in my life”.

Terms of reference for the inquiry call for lawmakers to consider the handling of abuse by all non-government organisations and Mrs Moloney said forced adoptions of babies born to young mothers in Ballarat hospitals had created generational disadvantage in the community. 

The inquiry is expected to return to Ballarat early next year as participants who took part in a joint submission from around 30 Ballarat victims give evidence. 

Committee chair Georgie Crozier told the hearing the Ballarat and District Survivors’ Group had asked to give their evidence after the Christmas period, in anticipation of renewed trauma of recalling their abuse.

Ballarat’s political leaders joined the public gallery during the hearing, with lower house MP Sharon Knight and Western Victoria representatives Simon Ramsay and Jaala Pulford speaking to survivors and advocates. 

Lawyer and Monash University PhD researcher Judy Courtin joined Oakleigh MP Ann Barker and high profile victims and advocates Chrissie and Anthony Foster at the hearing, which will be remembered as a landmark event ahead of a national royal commission into sexual abuse.

Upper house MP and committee member David O’Brien said Ballarat had been subject to the crimes of a “paedophile cluster operating under the guise of the cloth”. 

The inquiry again heard that survivors of abuse by clergy should be subject to a benefit scheme for legal and counselling costs with one witness saying it should be administered by government and funded by the church.

Under the plan, victims could be eligible for a special pension status similar to that of veterans’ of the permanently incapacitated. 

If you or someone you know requires assistance, contact the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault on 5320 3933

thomas.mcilroy@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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