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Child sexual abuse and the difficulty of coming forward

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Vicitms of abuse find it difficult to tell their stories, but hopefully doing so can inspire others to heal (Image via Shutterstock)

Sexual abuse suffered by children leaves a lifetime of damage and can be painful to talk about, as Gerry Georgatos knows first hand.

DESPITE THE ROYAL COMMISSION into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse unveiling the pernicious tragedy of child sexual abuse and delivering the great good of validation, child sexual abuse remains the least-discussed tragedy in the nation. In my work with suicidality, I have first-hand testimony and witness of the extensiveness of child sexual abuse and its impacts. The word “impact” does not signify anywhere near the extent of the hurt.

My colleagues and I have supported thousands who have presented suicidality, intersected by child sexual abuse trauma. I am not one to spill my personal stories, despite my relatively significant media profile over the decades. However, I have seen the power of the profound good by people hurt by child sexual abuse coming forward, telling their stories and paving the ways forward. I have assisted many in their coming forward with their history. It is only right that I should, too.

I was only nine years old when I was sexually assaulted by a man who, by all accounts, I should have been able to trust. The institutional setting was my primary school. The offender was a school teacher.

According to the Royal Commission, on average, males take 33 years to finally tell someone of such abuse. In my case, it was 47 years. Two years ago, I finally told my partner and then thereafter my only child. The telling was traumatic.

My father who loved me dearly passed away on Easter Friday 2014 and if he was still alive, I do not know if I could have told anyone what I told to my two most loved ones. It was my view that I could not break his heart and shatter a trust he had in the world, that it could be so unjust and cruel.

In 1971, I had nowhere to turn to. That is because there was nowhere to turn to — not the institution of the school itself nor the police. My young years were lived in a time in the early 1970s of impenetrable hideous silences. There was hostility to such truth, whilst also widespread disbelief of such happenings. Such were indeed the times, as indelibly portrayed by the Royal Commission.

Nearly half a century would pass without my telling any other single soul. For a little while, years ago, I engaged a psychologist. However, even then I did not divulge. I have never forgotten the psychologist’s inquiry, one which he persevered, as to the well of my strength and resilience. He commented he could not understand, knowing more of my life than others do, from where I had drawn the endless strength and resilience that he believed I have.

I am proud of everyone who tells their history and I am proud of those who don’t. I have lived both, the not telling of such a history and finally the telling of it.

I remember being devastated, hostage to madness, corralled by fear, muddle-minded by hysteria if I told my father. I believed he would wrought physical harm on the offender. Of this, I was sure. I was also sure in those days of uglier racism than there is today, that justice would not go our way and that my father would have been ostracised to a gaol. Such was the mind’s eye of that scared little child in 1971.

Less than two months later, after the most brutal rape where I had frozen like the coldest ice, my family would journey to Greece. My father had not seen his father in 18 years. We would make it in time to see my grandfather in the last eight hours of his life.

Despite the great sadness of the trip where my father would bury his father, Greece was a relief for me from a sin harvested upon me that had me crying to sleep and in pulpit nightmares. I felt safe in Greece. Our trip was ten weeks long. During the last evening, I was distraught. Scores of relatives gathered in an evening farewell on the flat rooftop of an uncle’s home. I was only nine years old, but I became drunk on a bottle of red wine. My mother’s brother became so distressed by my inebriation, he emptied the last bottles of wine over the rooftop’s balcony. He despaired that I would become an alcoholic for reasons not understood.

My heartbreaking story is a story of many millions of human beings. I do not believe I need to tell much more other than that it is okay to come forward.

Life is short. Our small claim to this brief stretch of life needs to be lived unencumbered by whatever is thrown at us. In my own way, over time, travelling the world a decade strong and also as a journeyperson across this great continent, there has been for me contextualising. It is my view that we validate trauma and subsequently disable trauma and ensure that the trauma does not become a lifelong management issue. The Royal Commission categorised sexual abuse towards those aged nine years and less as the worst.

I am now older than more than two-thirds of all Australians and older than four-fifths of our world’s population. The telling of these stories is important so there is much less chance than ever before of what happened to me. It should not happen to the children of today and tomorrow.

Trauma that remains unaddressed and unresolved cannot heal and where there’s no healing, trauma becomes cumulative, languishing as disordered thinking and negative selves. Unaddressed child sexual abuse, in my view, is one of the worst forms of trauma which can degenerate to toxic, internalised grief.

There is more social justice today than there has ever been in recorded history. In this understanding, we must remain solid in our journeying together to better, safer and more loving societies. The Royal Commission was a long overdue blessing; with over 8,000 private sessions held and more than 40,000 calls taken. It was validation of voices once unheard, of the invisible, of a shattering of the silence. Because of The Royal Commission, there are now less of these abominations.

Though I understand that the school teacher who perpetrated vile on me was a multiple predator, I have forgiven him. I do not hate him. Everyone is accountable foremost to oneself. No one can escape oneself. I have never sought to chase him down, though ironically, I have chased others down to the point of incarceration because they were present threats to the safety, wellbeing and very life of others.

All forms of reparations, including compensation, are psychological positives. The Redress Scheme is a step in the right direction. The National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project does work alongside once invisible victims, particularly those intersected by poverty, to secure Redress payments and the various expert and psychosocial supports. There is an ever-increasing number of services spreading the love and supporting sisters and brothers.

This is a snippet from my life and I thank Independent Australia for publishing it.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher. He is also the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project. His most recent work has seen him work with thousands of impoverished people, intertwined with multifactorial issues including hundreds of children and older, hurt by child sexual abuse. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @GerryGeorgatos.

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