Corey Artz made a harrowing journey back to his hometown with one purpose: To end the cycle of child sexual abuse which has crippled Ballarat and protect future generations of children.
His visit follows the reignition of the debate about whether abuse victims are at risk of becoming abusers.
While experts argue it is a rare exception, Mr Artz’s abuser David Ridsdale was himself an abuse victim.
Mr Artz has returned to Ballarat a broken man, vindicated by the truth.
He is now calling on the man who abused him, high profile Ballarat clergy sexual abuse victim David Ridsdale, to be equally open about what happened.
Mr Ridsdale, is the nephew and victim of notorious paedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale.
Mr Ridsdale rose to prominence earlier this year as defacto spokesperson for a group of Ballarat clergy sexual abuse survivors pushing for truth and justice from the Catholic Church.
He helped lead a movement which saw a group of survivors fly to Rome in February to watch Cardinal George Pell testify before Australia’s child sexual abuse Royal Commission.
“There are only two people in this world who know what happened and that’s me and David,” Mr Artz said. “And I know I am telling the truth.”
Mr Artz recently gave evidence to the Royal Commission that when he was 12 years old, Mr Ridsdale, then a youth leader at the local YMCA, molested him.
One of the incidents occurred after Mr Ridsdale offered to drive Mr Artz home.
“David pulled the car over and proceeded to pull his pants down pulled out his penis and started to masturbate and told me I had to do the same thing as well,” Mr Artz said. “I vividly remember him grabbing my penis and I had to do the same to him...I hated it. Afterward there were the threats of: ‘The devil will kill your mum and dad if you ever say anything to anyone.”
Mr Artz said he was abused by Mr Ridsdale on three occasions.
Since the abuse, he has battled suicidal thoughts and been so crippled by the trauma he had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
He is sharing his story in the hope other victims of child sexual abuse will come forward and seek support.
He said while Mr Ridsdale’s actions didn’t diminish his as a victim, he had no right to speak on behalf of survivors.
"My mantra is there is just no excuse for child sexual abuse," Mr Artz said.
"I totally understand that David had a horrible childhood and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But it doesn't give him the right to do it to me. It doesn’t give him the right to pass the pain on. It's just not right and it can't be like that.”
Mr Ridsdale has broken his silence for the first time since Mr Artz has come forward.
For the first time the offences Mr Ridsdale was charged with in 1995 have been disclosed publicly. He was charged with two counts of indecently assaulting a young boy while he was a youth leader, and he pleaded guilty.
He was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond. The magistrate noted at the time his history of being abused may have led to his offending.
Mr Artz’s revelations have triggered widespread debate about cyclical child sexual abuse.
It has also sparked controversy, with many arguing it undermined Mr Ridsdale as an advocate for other sexual abuse survivors.
The Courier reported on Mr Ridsdale’s conviction when he was charged in 1995. It has also subsequently published the assault charges in the years following including after Mr Ridsdale appeared on 60 Minutes detailing Cardinal Pell had tried to “buy his silence'' when he publicly revealed his uncle had abused him.
The Courier also referred to David’s offending in a story published in June last year.
The first time Mr Ridsdale was raped by his uncle it was in a car on the side of the road. He was 11.
The brutal abuse at the hands of his uncle would continue until he was 15.
He told a child sexual abuse inquiry in May last year, he was also molested by Christian Brothers Gerald Leo Fitzgerald and Robert Best during his early years at St Alipius Boys School.
Mr Ridsdale has confessed to being extremely psychologically traumatised by the abuse at the time of his offending against Mr Artz and said he had a distorted view of adult sexuality and sexual abuse.
He accepted his actions were inexcusable.
"Every day I wish there were ways I could diminish the impact my actions had on his life," he told The Courier.
“While my actions are my own, I have tried to understand the nightmare landscape of my mind after my uncle had finished with me."
Mr Ridsdale disclosed his offending to police at the same time he alerted police to the actions of his uncle, years before Mr Artz made his police statement
Mr Ridsdale previously told the sex abuse inquiry in his teenage years he believed sexual abuse was a “normal” part of society.
He told the inquiry he lived in “terror” his growing sexual feelings were indicative he had a predatory nature like his uncle.
When asked if he felt his past undermined him as an advocate for victims, Mr Ridsdale said he had “no desire” to become a spokesperson or leader of the Ballarat men’s survivor group.
He said he was driven by a pursuit to break the cycle of child sexual abuse.
He disputed claims he hadn’t been transparent and denied he tried to hide his past.
“Every time I have gone public my past has been reported in the media,” Mr Ridsdale said.
"My shame of what I did has pushed me to seek ways to break the cycle of abuse that was endemic in my life.”
He said he could have never foreseen the plight would take him to the steps of the Vatican in Rome.
Mr Ridsale’s last request to the sex abuse commission was that it sought to establish more mechanisms where young people with dark thoughts could safely discuss them.
Clerical abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron said Ballarat survivors were left heartbroken by the recent revelations.
Mr Blenkiron said meeting Mr Artz had been gut-wrenching.
He said Mr Artz’s story exposed the deeper horror and tragedy of decades of generational child sex crimes in Ballarat.
“Corey is one of us and he has our complete support,” Mr Blenkiron said.
“He belongs to a group in Ballarat which people don’t ever want to be part of.
“It’s about misuse of power in institutions and in society by adults which has left so many children damaged.”
“Opening up the truth is not using a defence like: ‘we weren't the only cab off the rank’. It's seeing why sexual abuse has leached into out community fabric.
“We need to put systems in to protect children now and into the future.”
“We must have effective support for children hurt in the past who need help today as adults.
“We have to stop this scourge of sexual abuse and emotional destruction which has been unleashed on so many families.”
He said Ballarat continued to have ten times the national average suicide rate and he called on the whole community to take action to lower the death toll.
He believed the suicide rate was a direct and indirect result of the concentrated clergy sexual abuse in the city and the emotional devastation it unleashed on families.
In her evidence to the child sex abuse inquiry last year in May, University of NSW Associate Professor and psychiatrist Carolyn Quadrio argued the vast majority of abused children never go on to become offenders.
"It's a source of enormous pain and anxiety because most people who have been abused live in fear and dread that somehow it's contaminated them,” Dr Quadrio told the commission.
“They hold back from their children as if they're afraid that this thing's going to come out of them in some way.”
She estimated the percentage of victims who went on to abuse was less than 10 per cent.
But she argued adolescents who were abused were more at risk of becoming offenders.
“They (can) get kind of flashbacks of the abuse and then it's very hard to know what's a flashback and what's a sexual fantasy,” she said. “They may end up enacting the very trauma they experience themselves.”
Children who are sexually abused are much less likely to have any genuine sexual feeling, sexual fantasies or sexual drive of any sort as a result of the abuse, she said.
Bravehearts founder and leading child protection activist Hetty Johnston, who represents victims of child abuse including Mr Artz, called on Mr Ridsdale to open up about his past.
“David Ridsdale needs to tell the whole truth as Corey has done,” she said.
“He hasn't been honest or taken responsibility for his own behaviour and, as a result, he has caused added pain and suffering to survivors.”
She said it was dangerous to fuel misconceptions about child sexual abuse.
“We know most people who have been sexually assaulted do not go on to commit crimes against children,” Ms Johnston said.
“It's unfair for survivors to perpetuate the myth that if you have been harmed as a child you’re at higher risk or even likely to be commit offence. If we do that, we fall right into the hands of perpetrators.”
“It will push survivors, particularly men, to never tell anyone because they will fear people will believe they will abuse and it is not true, it’s destructive, it’s unfair and it's a myth.”
Professor of Psychiatry at Melbourne University, Doctor Louise Newman, said the damage to children after sexual abuse was immediate and had long-term consequences.
She said the trauma of sexual abuse manifested itself in many ways and argued the vast majority of children never go on to offend.
Dr Newman said children were often left with feelings of confusion of what constituted affection or closeness and difficulty understanding sexuality.
She said others were left with distorted or disturbed thought patterns which made it difficult for them to build healthy relationships with people.
Dr Newman said there was an urgent need for more trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy for victims of child sexual abuse left confused or haunted by disturbed thoughts.
"One of the tragic outcomes of child abuse is that for some people, but certainly not the majority at all, there can be tendency to repeat or enact destructive patterns of behaviour not necessarily in exactly the same way as they had been abused,” she said.
"What we need urgently are more prevention and therapeutic programs to break the cycle of abuse and to support children who have been left damaged and traumatised by sexual abuse to go on to form healthy relationships."
"Hopefully one thing that comes out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse is a recommendation pushing for more early intervention behavioural programs to support sexually abused children.”
• To contact Ballarat’s Centre Against Sexual Assault, located on the corner of Vale and Edwards streets, Sebastopol, call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292.
Lifeline can be accessed on 13 11 14.
Bravehearts 1800 272 831
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