Marching forward to new future

The community has been loud and strong in its determination to ensure the city’s horrific sexual abuse at the hand of clergy is acknowledged and justice is served. 

For two years, the focus has been on highlighting the abuse – now the community is striving to ensure there is support for the countless survivors who have not publicly come forward, for their family and all other victims. 

For many, Ballarat No More Silence Week marks a Eureka moment, a pivotal turning point in the how the community addresses sexual assault and mental illness, while also educating future generations to protect themselves and others.

Centre Against Sexual Assault operations manager Shireen Gunn said the week of events was for survivors of all forms of assault.

“It is bringing the message out to the broader community. It is raising awareness,” Ms Gunn said. 

“The royal commission has led the way and has opened up discussion in community and put out facts about sexual assault. It is involving the community in ongoing awareness of the prevalence of the sexual assault in the community.” 

CASA’s Andrea Lockhart said many of the  men the in support group were buoyed by the community’s support and focus on healing.

“Coming back from Rome, they didn’t want it forgotten and just put away. The sense I got from was men was they are really encouraged that something is happening again,” Ms Lockhart said. 

St Patrick’s College headmaster John Crowley said the school’s communication with survivors had been instrumental in ground-breaking changes, including the school leading the way in its education programs. He called on other community institutions to take the same leadership roles.

“I think we need to stop using empty words and hollow promises and use our voice in a way that embraces real changes,” Mr Crowley said.

“The victim and survivors who suffered greatly are the ones who need to be supported.” 

Loud Fence creator Maureen Hatcher said the campaign and events highlighted the true difference a grass roots community campaign could make. 

“We’ve had a big black cloud over Ballarat and it’s time to get over that – to talk and work as a community,” Ms Hatcher said.

“Early on in the peace it was very much about awareness. Now by looking at the program of events it was very much a focus on education and feeling and those two go hand in hand and we need to educate educators and families. 

“They wanted to do something, they just didn’t know what to do. Tying  ribbon is such a simple gesture, is such a powerful gesture – it’s such a grassroots initiative but the community has managed to do something and show support.”

Survivor Peter Blenkiron said now was the time to drive cultural change. 

“It’s going through the compassion fatigue and it’s not just about sexual abuse and the aftermath. It’s a no brainer that it’s not okay to rape children. The message is broader – about general well being, mental health as a community. That we have to treat this differently.”