Sexual abuse survivors launch national day to encourage others to speak up

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]

November 15, 2022

By Lucy MacDonald

For 20 years, Richard Jabara lived with the memory of his abuse — then he read an article that would change his life. 

Key points:

  • The In Good Faith Foundation has partnered with LOUD Fence to establish a day to acknowledge and support survivors of sexual abuse
  • Abuse survivor Richard Jabara says sharing his story was difficult, but things have changed for the better 
  • Another survivor Tiffany Skeggs says she hopes the national day sparks conversations and leads to more change

It was the 1970s and Mr Jabara was just 13 years old.

His family had moved to Australia from the United States. Originally settling in Queensland, they eventually made the journey south to Melbourne.

In Melbourne, Mr Jabara was groomed and raped by a Catholic priest. 

That same year he was sexually assaulted at Xavier College — a prestigious Catholic school that has since had to reckon with its past.

For two decades he lived with his pain.

“I just felt embarrassed,” he said.

“I didn’t really want to say ‘this is what happened to me’ because obviously, it was involving a priest, it was a man — that was a bit of a stigma for me.”

Sexual assault support services:

It was an article in The Age that set him on the path he’s on today — an account of another survivor.

“As I was reading the article and hearing his story, it was another man, and him telling the difficulties he had in his life, I said ‘well that’s me’,” he said.

“There was a little line at the end saying if you’re a victim of abuse you need to come forward and that’s what made me come forward.”

While Mr Jabara successfully pursued civil action against the school, and catholic priest Terrence Pidito was jailed for his crimes against multiple boys — that journey wasn’t simple.

“When I came forward to people around me, they didn’t believe,” he said.

Abuse survivor Richard Jabara as a child.(Supplied)

“They actually didn’t believe that I was telling the truth. They thought ‘really? This didn’t happen to you Richard’.”

That was roughly 20 years ago and a lot has changed in that time.

There’s been a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the federal government apologised to victims and survivors of institutional abuse in 2018, and Mr Jabara watched as survivor Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year.

“It was a recognition that survivors are to be heard,” he said.

“When I came forward, survivors, we were a bit of a nuisance to the church and other authorities.

“If a person comes forward now, yes they’re believed, yes there’s support.”

Ms Skeggs’ case was one of the catalysts for Tasmania’s Commission of Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The significance of Grace Tame’s award was felt by child sexual abuse survivors across the country, including fellow victim survivor Tiffany Skeggs.

“That was a moment in our history that actually put child sex abuse on the national stage,” said Ms Skeggs.

“It was the moment where our whole country came together and realised that this issue was far more vast, far more widespread and deeply ingrained that we have ever acknowledged and it still does in some part remain that way.”

Ms Skeggs was groomed and abused by as a teenager by a man she met at netball.

The man, who also worked as a nurse on a children’s ward at the Launceston General Hospital for 18 years, took his own life after he was charged with multiple offences relating to child sexual abuse.

Ms Skeggs was the first woman to come forward to police.

Her story was one of the catalysts for Tasmania’s Commission of Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse — an inquiry that has uncovered tales of horrific abuse in institutions across the state.

“[Speaking out] was one of the most terrifying, shameful, fulfilling moments of my life,” she said.

“For me it has been worth it to draw the attention to the cause that it truly deserves.”

In the mere months since Ms Skeggs shared her story, she has become a fierce advocate for sexual abuse survivors.

Now she’s joined with Mr Jabara and the In Good Faith Foundation and LOUD Fence Inc. to launch the first National Survivors’ Day on November 15.

They’re asking people to wear a multicoloured ribbon, take a social media pledge with the hashtag #everyvoice and donate to the day.

Ms Skeggs said the day will honour not only sexual abuse survivors but family members, staff, whistleblowers and others who’ve been affected by the abuse.

“Child sex abuse can no longer be a taboo subject. It needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds,” said Ms Skeggs.

She said the symbolism of the day would’ve meant a lot to her as a child.

“To know that people cared and that I would be believed and most importantly that what I was going through wasn’t my fault,” she said.

“It may not have enabled me to go out and disclose that abuse that same day but it at least would’ve sparked that little inkling in my mind or that conversation that I had with someone to say ‘hey this is what I’m experiencing, I don’t think it’s normal. Can you please help me?’

“They’re the important conversations that a day like today will ensure we can have.”

Keeping issue in the spotlight

In Good Faith chief executive Clare Leaney said a national day would help destigmatise the experiences of survivors.

“They need to be heard, they need to believed and they need to know they have a community of support behind them,” she said.

She said the day was about showing support, but also making sure the issue stays in the spotlight.

“That message of support is so important for survivors to see, particularly when it comes from a broad societal group because it tells them that there is that opportunity to speak, there is that opportunity to engage,” she said.

“There is still a long way to go, and we absolutely must continue having the conversation to prevent abuse from happening in future.”

As part of the day, she wants to generate an annual report to understand what the community impacts of institutional abuse and sexual assault have been, and to try and understand how many people have been impacted.

As for Mr Jabara, he said this day was about letting survivors know their community supported them and they were safe to come forward if they wanted to.

“If I hadn’t have come forward I don’t think I’d be the person I am today,” he said.

“If there are other victims out there, survivors — and I think there are tens of thousands of them — the Royal Commission showed that only one in seven come forward.”

“If you’re hearing my story, there’s no need to feel ashamed and there’s support for you.”