Ribbons a show of support for Warrnambool's child sex abuse victims

Colourful ribbons tied to the fence of Warrnambool’s St Joseph’s Catholic Church are a visible show of support for the region’s victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

The Loud Fence campaign, which began in Ballarat, is gaining global traction for its brightly coloured displays aimed at supporting clergy abuse victims, survivors and their families. 

Ballarat-based abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron visited Warrnambool to tie ribbons this week and was later joined by St Joseph’s Father John Fitzgerald.

Mr Blenkiron said many abuse survivors and their families in the Warrnambool area were still battling with a horrific past. 

Healing: St Joseph's Catholic Church's Father John Fitzgerald ties a ribbon to the church's fence as part of the Loud Fence campaign that aims to support sexual abuse victims, survivors and their families. Picture: Peter Blenkiron

Healing: St Joseph's Catholic Church's Father John Fitzgerald ties a ribbon to the church's fence as part of the Loud Fence campaign that aims to support sexual abuse victims, survivors and their families. Picture: Peter Blenkiron

“The reality is that a lot of people are still hurting. I’ve used the analogy that it’s a time bomb ticking,” he said.

“I want to get the message out there in Warrnambool that for people who are struggling there is help out there and counselling out there.” 

Mr Blenkiron said the ribbons acknowledged the suffering of clergy abuse victims and those who died prematurely or took their own lives. 

“It’s a symbolic act that will lead to positive action,” he said of the Loud Fence campaign.

Father Fitzgerald said Loud Fence was an important step in the healing process and he invited more people to tie ribbons to the church’s fence. “The ribbons are symbolic. It’s one way of giving victims and survivors a voice,” he said.

“This is an initiative to show support to survivors and their families and it’s healing for the whole community. It’s only a small thing, but good things start in small ways.”

The Loud Fence movement also hopes to provide some healing between abuse survivors and the Catholic Church.

It comes after Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird this week became the first bishop in Australia to join the Loud Fence movement. Bishop Bird tied ribbons outside Ballarat’s St Patrick's Cathedral on Wednesday. 

“This gesture is a way to recognise the suffering and publicly show support to victims, survivors and their families,” he said.

Bishop Bird said he hoped the gesture opened up channels of communication between the Catholic Church and survivors. 

Ballarat Loud Fence creator Maureen Hatcher hoped the gesture would open the floodgates for more people to join the movement.

“It sends out a big statement that people shouldn't have to sneak around in the dark to tie a ribbon,” Ms Hatcher said. “It shows the support  for survivors and victims is coming from the leaders of the church in Ballarat.” 

        – with Ballarat Courier

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