The case of Cardinal George Pell must not silence victims of child sexual abuse or deter them from holiding perpetrators to account, Ballarat survivors of child sexual abuse and their supporters say.
In a city deeply scarred by the legacy of institutional abuse, support from community to ensure survivors are heard and believed is needed, according to leaders.
Cardinal George Pell won his appeal bid to the High Court and was freed from prison on Tuesday.
The court unanimously found Ballarat-born Pell's conviction for child sex abuse should be overturned.
For many survivors, a finding that negates their own experience is fundamentally annihilating.Shireen Gunn, CASA Ballarat
He was convicted in December 2018 of the historical child sexual abuse of two teenage altar boys in Melbourne in the 1990s and sentenced to six-years imprisonment.
A summary of the appeal decision said the 'High Court found the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant's guilt with respect to each of the offences'.
The decision to quash the convictions sent shock waves throughout Ballarat, causing emotional reactions of anger and devastation from many clergy abuse victims.
"For victim survivors, what's absolutely critical is being believed and having your experience validated, and for many survivors, a finding that negates their own experience is fundamentally annihilating," Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault operations manager Shireen Gunn said on Monday.
Phil Nagle was assaulted when he was a nine-year-old student at a St Alipius Christian Brothers Primary School.
He said he was in shock and disbelief at the High Court's decision to overturn Pell's convictions.
"It is certainly going to have an impact on survivors that haven't gone through that system yet," he said.
"I went through it in the 90s - it is a very difficult process to go through. This certainly would put some element of doubt in your mind about going down that road."
Mr Nagle said he felt sorry and disappointed for the victim in this case.
"It was obviously a very harrowing experience," he said.
"I don't think this instills a lot of confidence in the justice system."
Stephen Woods, who was abused at St Alipius Christian Brothers School in the 1970s, said he was upset and appalled at the decision.
"The criminal justice system is dramatically failing victims of childhood sexual assault," he said.
"Pell is not the issue here. Pell is an example.
"Victims need a lawyer who is able to stand at the bar and argue our case in court.
"It is so very difficult to get a criminal prosecution up and to get a conviction when the perpetrator can have a lawyer, the state has a lawyer, but the victim doesn't have a lawyer arguing their case."
His lawyer during the royal commission and herself a victim of sexual abuse, Ingrid Irwin, said legislative change was needed to improve the conviction rate of perpetrators of sexual assault.
This included allowing victims a lawyer and legal standing in their cases.
She said it was 'insane' the law recognised everyone needed a lawyer in a courtroom, but victims were currently not even a player in their own cases.
"Hardly any cases even make it to trial, most don't make it past the police station," she said.
"Sadly, there is nothing surprising about the Pell case. Legally victims are vulnerable until they have a lawyer.
"There is no legal standing for a victim in any criminal case. That is why this case has ended this way."
A statement released by the Monument family, who has experienced clergy sexual abuse, said they hoped the High Court decision did not become a deterrent to victim-survivors.
"It is more important than ever that they continue to speak their truth and hold to account both perpetrators and institutions," they said.
"Our thoughts are with J, his family and friends. You are not alone, you were believed."
Loud Fence founder Maureen Hatcher said the High Court decision was devastating, but we had to keep hope it was not a step backwards.
"In fact, what has happened in the last few years is that we have heard survivor voices very loudly and hopefully that will continue," she said.
Clergy sexual abuse survivor Andrew Collins said Pell's case highlighted the diffficulty of prosecuting child sexual abuse cases.
"We know there are other people out there. I would say don't give up," he said.
"Sexual abuse is a personal crime, a crime that is done in private without witnesses and when taken to court it is essentially one person's word against another.
"We just have to respect the court decision."
Mr Collins said he would look forward to the release of final reports from the royal commission into child sexual abuse that could now be un-redacted and reveal the extent of Pell's knowledge of the broad disaster that was abuse of children in the church.
Federal Attorney General Christian Porter told media he would consider whether he could release a redacted section of the final report of the royal commission into child sexual abuse and would be liaising with Victorian authorities.
"My strong preference is to have as much of the information that has been redacted tabled with less redaction. But that is a process I have to engage in with Victorian authorities," he said.
If you, or anyone you know needs support, phone Ballarat CASA on 5320 3933, or free-call the crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292.
Or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380 between 9am and 5pm.
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