Every colourful ribbon tied to a Loud Fence in Ballarat has a face.
They are the faces of children whose innocence was broken by the very people meant to nurture and protect them. Poignant photos of little children with the world at their feet. Images of children who have died prematurely because the abuse was too great to bear. Images of children, who are now adults, facing a life sentence.
For the first time, a social media campaign is revealing the real faces of a systematic failure in the protection of children. The Every Ribbon has a Face campaign is joint initiative between the city’s Loud Fence movement to end the silence on sexual abuse and the Ballarat So Sad Facebook page.
Dominic Ridsdale has shared his harrowing story of abuse at the hands of his paedophile uncle disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale publicly for the first time. He did so in the hope other victims suffering in silence across the city would find the courage to reach out.
Among the most tragic photos in the campaign are those with no human face like abuse survivor Gordon “Bushman Hilly” Hill whose image is a number. He was an orphan at St Joseph’s Home at Sebastopol between 1943 to 1959. He suffered years physical, sexual and emotional abuse. He was referred to as number 29.
Across the city a groundswell of support has wrapped itself around survivors in a bid to end years of denial by acknowledging their pain. Their support is giving new hope to survivors leading a national charge which has attracted celebrity support and seen the rest of Australia follow.
Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault manager Shireen Gunn said community response campaigns were pivotal in ending the isolation felt by sex abuse victims.
“It acknowledges their abuse and creates a supportive environment they can heal,” she said. “Loud Fence has had a profound effect on survivors. It is such a widespread show of support that educates people because it starts conversations about sexual assault.”
The ripple effects of sexual abuse are inter-generational. Ms Gunn said survivors were often triggered by their own children turning the same age as they were when they were abused.
“It impacts a victim’s ability to feel safe in parenting their children,”she said. “Their experience was the world wasn’t safe for children. Many of them feel a sense of that today. They could be emotionally detached or overly vigilant because they want to protect their own children from what they endured.”
One in three women and one in five men will be sexually abused in their lifetime. “Many people are only starting to realise their relatives may have been sexually abused,” she said. “The Royal Commission is bringing all of this to the surface and people are slowly putting pieces of the puzzle together.”
Details: facebook.com/BallaratSoSad/ For help call CASA on 1800 806 292 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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