May 30, 2018
By Tarnya Davis
My first job as a psychologist was with the Lower Hunter Sexual Assault Service. It was the 1990s and the public perception of the prevalence of sexual abuse was vastly out of step with the reality. A visiting politician asked how two sexual assault counsellors managed to keep themselves busy, while the fact was we were overwhelmed.
We carried pagers at night and weekends and too often would find ourselves at the John Hunter Hospital, supporting someone who had just been sexually assaulted. It was an exhausting but incredibly fulfilling role.
In the early 2000s many of the people I saw in my private practice were the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by those from the church. I sat with brave men and women as they told their devastating stories, made statements to the police and as they waited years until they could give evidence in court. The legal process was harrowing and mostly disappointing. At that time experts estimated only one in 10 people would report abuse to the police and of those only one in 10 would progress to charges and a trial. Only a third of those would see a conviction.
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