When Maureen Hatcher tied a ribbon to the gates of the old St Alipius Christian Brothers Boys’ School a year ago, she never could have imagined how much her simple gesture would grow.
The single red ribbon was tied in honour of her friend’s brother. He’d taken his own life following years of torment after he was sexually abused by Catholic clergy as child. Ms Hatcher said a black cloud was left hanging over Ballarat during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearings as years of pain were brought to the surface.
But as the darkness emerged out of the abuse inquiry something profound unfolded. Ribbons began being tied outside institutions as an overt response to traumas long held silent and a symbol of solidarity with sexual abuse victims.
“At the crux of this whole disaster is that children weren't listened to,” Ms Hatcher said. “As a community we needed to open up conversations about child sexual abuse and get rid of the stigma and fear surrounding it.”
It became known as Loud Fence. A grass roots movement depicting Ballarat fearlessly facing up to its harrowing past. It was also catalyst for change which saw public support continue to mount for survivors leading them on a plight for truth in Rome.
“Loud fence is its own entity,” Ms Hatcher said. “It has never been led. It has always taken on a life of its own and naturally moved in the direction it has been taken by survivors and supporters.”
Loud Fences have been created all over the world, including in New York, London and the gates of the Vatican in Rome. Barriers were broken down between the Catholic Church and survivors with Cardinal George Pell tying a ribbon in Rome and Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird publicly declaring his support.
For clergy abuse survivor Paul Levey it was a beam of hope for the future.
“Sexual abuse has been such a huge issue in Ballarat but it was swept under the carpet for years,” Mr Levey said. “It brings out a mixed bag of emotions in me. Sadness but also so much comfort in the amount of public support. It symbolises that while the past is out in the open we need to do everything we can to protect future generations.” CASA: 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292.