Unheard Abuse Survivors Reach out En Masse in Wake of Pell Testimony
By Konrad Marshall
March 4, 2016
The messages arrived quickly, mere moments after the first news stories went up this week about Cardinal George Pell.
Were do i get help mate, wrote the anonymous man.
i was abused by all of them
|Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to reporters as he leaves the Quirinale hotel after meeting with survivors of sex abuse. Photo: AP|
For this one survivor among many, the royal commission hearings this week were too much. The denials. The foggy memories. The feeling of helplessness took him back to that time when he was tied to a chair, sexually abused and belted with canes.
|Shireen Gunn, of CASA in Ballarat. Photo: Konrad Marshall|
The man was referred to the Centre Against Sexual Assault, the peak organisation for sexual assault counselling in Victoria.
Carolyn Worth, spokesperson for the CASA Forum, said the demand for help of this kind has spiked dramatically since Cardinal Pell took the stand, with serious inquiries jumping almost 15 per cent in one week.
Ms Worth spoke to one front line operator who could not recall a worse shift on the job than Monday's.
"She did 13 intakes, perhaps 30 minutes each, talking to desperate people who wanted to make an appointment for counselling," Ms Worth said. "We used to think one month was an unreasonable wait time. But now in a number of locations around the state we have wait times of two and three months, and others with wait times of five months. It just doesn't stop."
In Ballarat alone, more than 30 people have made appointments or had interviews with CASA in the past fortnight – a 25 per cent increase on the already-high numbers coming forward. Shireen Gunn, manager of the Ballarat CASA, said the centre could help anyone with an initial counselling session, but continued support might not be possible for upwards of four months.
Help may be on the way. Having met with a small group of survivors in Rome, Cardinal Pell expressed his desire to make Ballarat a model for peace by investigating a feasibility study into a potential research centre to "enhance healing" and "improve protection". This has long been proposed by survivors.
The proposal was the No.1 topic of conversation in Ballarat on Friday, although details remain unclear.
The form and funding of any such centre raises questions for current service providers. Ms Worth said it was "terrific" that Cardinal Pell had recognised the need for services, but that it would "always better to have an independent organisation looking at these things – not one that is attached to the organisation that has caused the damage."
Ms Worth said the greater good could be achieved by adequately funding CASAs to deal with their growing wait lists, while adding the capacity for research and preventive work.
"Although it is clear that the victims of clergy abuse have had an extremely difficult time," she said, "in reality the majority of people seen by CASAs are female, and are victims of familial abuse."
Ms Gunn noted that the Ballarat CASA in Sebastopol simply needed more of what they already have got – including experienced and qualified counsellors, and long-term funding.
"We're inundated," she said. "We need immediate support now, on the ground."