Introduction: Parole= the beginning of our sentence.
Like most parents, I am more than just a caregiver. I am a taxi driver, a sports manager/coach, a chef, a dental hygienist, a tutor, an ATM etc…etc. However, it is the role as counsellor and chief protection officer, which has been most taxing on my heart and mind these last few weeks.
My children are survivors of Child Sexual Assault and, they, like everyone else, have been bombarded by opinion pieces over one of the more high profile cases of Child Sexual Assault, resulting in the conviction of George Pell. Some might ask why I wouldn’t turn off the TV, remove them from Social Media, hide the Newspaper, switch the radio station, to avoid the triggers, but you see, I strongly feel that sheltering them from this truth, is a major part of the problem. Instead of dwelling on the, very limited, details of the abuse that these young men have suffered, my children are encouraged to draw strength from the fact that they are not alone in this horrendous experience and that like them, these people had the strength to stand up to the perpetrator and say that abuse is wrong.
On Wednesday, 13th March at approximately 11am, I received 6 text messages on my phone. Then, multiple notifications came from News outlets, alerting me to the fact that George Pell had been sentenced to 6 years in prison. The text messages were that of support, from friends and family, reaching out to see how I felt about the sentence. They were well meaning and compassionate and show the love and support that has characterised this very difficult journey. Our reality though is this- the size of a sentence is irrelevant, when I see the struggles that my beautiful girls face on a daily basis. No amount of time will make up for the Life Sentence that they have been given, nor the impact that this abuse has had on our daily life.
From the first disclosure in 2013, my husband and I uncovered the extent of the lie that we had been living for an indeterminate period of our lives as parents. A man whom we trusted had been performing sexual acts on our children for a number of years…and we had no idea.
Over the 5 and a half years since, we have been trying to create a “new normal” for our family. This “new normal” still consists of work, school and of course being a taxi driver for after school activities. But, it also includes incontinence, nightmares, visits to the police station and court house, weekly counselling sessions, and suicide attempts. It’s been a persistent effort to keep upbeat, when at times everything just feels broken.
Our “journey to justice” was long and arduous. Nobody mentioned the mentions- numerous, seemingly pointless dates at the court house, to make another date for another mention. Then there were the false starts, the adjournments, the pre-trial and the trial itself. We had amazing support from the police, caring and empathetic counsellors for our children, a doggedly determined DPP solicitor and a patient and considered barrister, but the “justice” system itself, seriously let us down. The trial nearly broke our already broken children. It was a four and a half week “farce-fest” where anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. We have a system where everyone is made to be accountable; their character and professionalism questioned; except for the accused. Four weeks and three days after we began in court, the defendant was found guilty. He was granted bail. Four months later, he was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in gaol.
He is being returned into the community, 2 years and six months later, next week. He got early release for his good behavior in gaol. Our sentence begins again next Tuesday. My girls are terrified.
Though he is a convicted child sex offender, a paedophile, and I know that his reality now, is very different to what is was six years ago, my kids still fear him. His face was never shown in the media, his name was never published. He could be your new neighbor, or your friend from the library. He could be that ex-colleague that you haven’t seen for a while. I continue to argue that his name, which was not under suppression orders, should be out there. I am not happy to let an antiquated legal system set up to protect a certain element of society, continue to perpetuate abuse on the most vulnerable. But trying to affect change has not been easy.
I’m still unable to believe what my children had to suffer at the hands of our “justice” system and I have no doubt that the victim and witnesses in the Pell case would have been even more heavily scrutinized, due to the high profile nature of the case. I am thankful for the attention that the media has drawn to Pell’s conviction. Why should he be afforded anonymity because of the appeal process, when that isn’t afforded to others? He has been found guilty, by a jury of his peers, who have all the facts. I applaud the decision to bring attention to this crime, and praise the victims, instead of shaming them. I know first-hand that the conviction doesn’t change their experience- particularly for the family of the young man who has died.
Whilst the next few months will be difficult for us to navigate as a family, I do know that my girls will grow up to be strong, resilient and beautiful women. They will continue to feel a sense of solidarity with other survivors who, like them, have given a voice to the voiceless and said no to abuse. In the meantime, I will continue to be their taxi, nurse and emotional punching bag, as set out in the imaginary role description of mum.