Warrnambool church lets in the light on sex abuse issue

CHILD sex abuse is like an iceberg, with most of it hidden. But that could be about to thaw, with Warrnambool’s Catholic Church community opening a door to tackle the issue.

Tears, anger and frustration about past cover-ups were vented at two public forums at St Joseph’s Church yesterday, where participants vowed it should never happen again.

But they were also confronted with the challenging reality that 70 per cent of child sex crimes are caused by family members and close friends of the victim.

Many of the perpetrators are still wandering at large in their community without having been to court because victims are either too afraid to divulge the horror or strong community figures have shut down inquiries in an effort to protect reputations.

“It will take a brave and determined community to really deal with this issue,” said Ballarat-based researcher Caroline Taylor, an international authority on the issue.

“I am impressed and encouraged by the response at the Warrnambool workshops and will be keenly watching to see what follows.

“This is a ground-breaking move by the clergy and community to come with open hearts and discuss the issue.

“It is a sign of a strong grassroots movement within the church, saying enough is enough. As far as I am aware it is a first for regional Victoria and maybe the state.”

Professor Taylor is a victim of abuse, caused by a member of her traditional Catholic family in western Victoria.

She said she was ostracised for reporting the offence. 

“I was thrown out of the family because of the disclosure and not allowed to go to functions including funerals,” she said.

Statistics show one-in-three females and one-in-six males are victims of sex crimes before the age of 18, but females face further victimisation for the rest of their lives.

Professor Taylor said tackling child sex abuse was tougher in rural communities, where there was minimal anonymity.

Professor Taylor said there had been enormous ramification in south-west communities over abuses by Catholic clergy, with many instances of reports either being ignored or inappropriately handled.

“Some who attended my Warrnambool workshops were weeping,” she said. “They still carry anger on how the church  responded, but they retained their faith and challenged the church to get it right.”

Professor Taylor has been an outspoken opponent of how church hierarchy dealt with crimes by clergy. 

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