Insight on Abuse Pain
By Melissa Cunningham
March 4, 2016
Ballarat's deputy mayor Belinda Coates's understanding of the complexities of child sexual abuse is more intricate than many would know.
For years, before she embarked on a career change into local government Cr Coates was a senior counsellor at the Centre Against Sexual Assault in Ballarat.
She said many people who had been sexually abused suffered post trauma responses often mirroring the symptoms of somebody who had experienced the horror of a war.
"When it is a physical trauma you can see it, but when it's an emotional or psychological trauma it's hidden away and very invisible," she said. "A lot of people in the community wouldn't realise that and how common of a response that is and the devastating impact it can have on peoples' lives."
Cr Coates said representing the City of Ballarat and supporting survivors on their trip to Rome to bear witness to Cardinal George Pells evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had been an extraordinarily humble feat.
"What has been incredible is all the support from home that has been flowing in for me to pass onto the survivors," Cr Coates said. "The survivors are incredibly courageous but it has certainly been so hard for them. They have felt the weight of it all on their shoulders and they have felt all the bigger issues, like protecting children of the present and future.That's a big responsibility for anyone."
Cr Coates said it had been a "long and slow" process but gradually there has been a shift in community understanding and acknowledgement of child sexual abuse.
"Some of the survivors have been speaking out for 20 or 30 years and some have just spoken out recently and then there is everything in between," Cr Coates said.
She said support services like Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault have been campaigning for the needs of sex abuse victims for more than 20 years.
"The issues around child sexual abuse are very much about the silence, secrecy and shame of it," Cr Coates said.
"But what the groundswell of support shows, is that they have nothing to be ashamed of. They've done nothing wrong and in fact people have a lot of support for them."
Cr Coates anticipated a surge in the number of victims coming forward in the wake of the recent public hearings into child sexual abuse held in Rome and Ballarat.
"This is so positive not just for Ballarat and Australia but the entire world," she said. "To see the seriousness of the crime and long-term impact and how much things do need to change."
Long after the survivors return to Ballarat Cr Coates wants to see the support continue for victims of sexual assault.
"After the hype of this visit dies down, that's when people will really need the support of their family and friends," Cr Coates said.
"In reality, there is no quick fix or magic solution. It's going to be a matter of existing services collaborating together. Lots of members of community want to demonstrate their support to survivors."
Cr Coates said any vision of a global leading healing centre for sexual abuse must victims must be guided by the survivors.
"It's something that's needs a lot of thought and support," she said. "There needs to be close work with survivors and existing services."
Those who are affected by sexual abuse should know there is help available and are urged to contact To contact CASA, Sebastopol, call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline can be accessed on 13 11 14. Relationships Australia 1300 364 277. Anyone who would like more information on the Royal Commission; for future hearings or past evidence can contact it on 1800 099 340.