As the glare of the world’s media fades, clerical abuse survivors say the focus must remain on addressing the immediate needs of the scores of historic sexual abuse victims still suffering in silence.
In the weeks after they took the issue of child sexual abuse to the steps of the Vatican, survivors are calling for urgent support for victims still piecing together their shattered lives. In Ballarat alone, more than 30 people have contacted the Centre Against Sexual Assault in recent weeks a 25 per cent increase on the already high numbers coming forward in the aftermath of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse public hearings.
While the particulars of a healing centre proposed by survivors are still being determined, survivor Andrew Collins said the foundations for change were in motion. Establishing a structure which provided adequate trauma counselling, individual case management and the establishment of a brokerage fund which will enable counselors to respond to the individual needs of survivors was paramount, he said.
But at the heart of it all is empowering and protecting future generations of children from the horrific impacts of sexual abuse.
“We have an opportunity to work together to make Ballarat not just a place where some of the worst sexual abuse in the world has happened but a place of solution and healing for people suffering,” Mr Collins said. "Firstly, we need to be taking care of sexual abuse victims, people who are damaged and who are in need right now. Victims who are at risk of premature death and homelessness. We need to reach out to sexual abuse victims not just of clergy abuse, but all childhood sexual abuse and make sure they have access to trauma support."
Earlier this month a group of Ballarat survivors and a support team travelled to Rome to hear Cardinal George Pell’s testimony to the Royal Commission, funded by a crowdfunding push which raised more than $200 000. Sexual abuse survivor Tony Wardley said the support from across the globe had given him the courage to publicly speak out about his abuse for the first time weeks ago.
"The support melted my heart," he said.
Some clerical sexual abuse victims on the trip to Rome revealed they can't remember large chunks of their childhood at St Alipius Christian Brothers Boys. The abuse was so abhorrent, it’s been repressed from their memories. Mr Wardley said for him, grade five had been erased from his memory.
"I don't know who my teacher was," he said. "I can't remember anything of that year when I try and remember it I freeze up. I don’t want to remember it.”
Survivor Peter Blenkiron said a breakthrough moment was reached after victims met with Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in Rome. The institution deals with the rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
“We’ve opened up the lines of communication and I walked away hopeful that we can push the words into realities,” Mr Blenkiron said. “My vision is to create a space in Ballarat for dialogue and research with a board featuring a number of different people working pro bono who are each putting in input. For those in need of immediate help, it can be a place for them to go and get pointed in the right direction.”
Another layer was rebuilding trust with schools caught up in the sex abuse scandal and creating programs to prevent abuse.
“It’s getting together the minds and structures to help survivors and those in need find a pathway to move forward,” Mr Blenkiron said. “Eventually that would roll out to improve the mental health and the well-being of the whole of Ballarat.”
Recently, Cardinal Pell spoke to The Courier directly in Rome. He said within hours of meeting with survivors he made contact with the Australian Catholic University to see if a research and healing centre could be housed at its Ballarat campus. Mr Collins said the idea had merit, but victims were yet to decide where a research centre would be housed.
“The church has been a part of problem so they need to have some input into the solution as well,” he said. Survivors are pushing for Australia’s prime minister to commit to a national redress scheme for victims. Plans proposed it would be largely funded by the institutions where the abuse occurred but run by an independent board under the auspices of the federal government. However, victims say the current proposal is still a long way from justice.
“We need some real changes to be made to the proposed redress scheme,” Mr Collins said. “The biggest issue is that the payout matrix is based on how you were abused not the impacts of your abuse. Yet all the research shows that how you were abused is literally irrelevant to how impacts that rest of your life.”
Labor has pledged support for a national redress scheme.The federal government said it will work with states and territories to develop a nationally consistent redress scheme, with the main responsibility residing with the jurisdiction where the offence took place. CASA: 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292.
“It’s getting together the minds and structures to help survivors and those in need find a pathway to move forward. Eventually that would roll out to improve the mental health and the well-being of the whole of Ballarat.”- Peter Blenkiron, Ballarat clergy childhood sexual abuse survivor
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.