What Pell’s Lawyer Said

“The domino effect which occurred with those other people starts from an unreliable and uncredible source,” Shann told the court.

I cannot believe a lawyer is saying this. God help us.  A domino effect! OK, so does that mean nobody remembers their childhood trauma until someone else remembers their childhood trauma?

Maybe my experience will help. I didn’t find out that I had been abused until my mid 40s. By that time I had been in therapy for a couple of years. The therapist told me that when she first met me, I had ‘almost disappeared’. For a long time, I didn’t understand what this meant. I do now. At the time I began therapy I had perfected the art of folding in on myself, retreating into the shell that allowed me to hide. I had been doing this since the abuse began. I ended up being the ‘significantly disturbed’ young woman referred to by the alleged perpetrator in Enquiry documents. I seemed ‘disturbed’ also to the Psychologist on the Diocesan Abuse Response Committee, who remembered me from our student days.  Eventually I sought psychiatric help, but before that there was a psychiatrist my abuser referred me to. This former school mate of my abuser told me that I was a ‘manipulative hysteric’, and needed ‘complete psychoanalysis’. I was worried. Another psychiatrist got angry with me one day a few years later. He said: “Nobody can get through to you. You’re so withdrawn. Why are you so scared of feelings? Feelings pass”.

In order to maintain the shell, I had invented various personas to get me through life. One of these personalities the abuser had created by telling me, a 17 year old school leaver, that I was a ‘beautiful woman’. This was part of his modus operandi.  Around that time I saw the play “There’s a Girl in My Soup”, about a serial predator. His ‘line’ was: “My God but you’re lovely!” At the age and stage I was, and because in 1969 nobody got sex education at my school, I didn’t know that this, or ‘you’re a beautiful woman’ was a ‘line’. I guess viewing me as a ‘woman’ gave him ‘permission’ to do what he did.

My abuse aged 17 wasn’t the first time. The first trauma is so early I don’t remember it. I only know it happened because of somatic signals I do remember and which are with me still. Nevertheless, I had managed to reach the age of 17 as a high achieving student with a part-time job.

Do these lawyers understand that until a child develops adequate language skills, they can’t put words to what happened? Might the ‘domino effect’ really come from someone finally being able to put words to what happened? Several FICH members told me they had lost the power of speech when they were in the Homes or being abused in foster care. When Lew and I started the group, our membership looked to us for help; as more than one of them told me: “You and Lew have the words”.

The coping personalities I invented stood me in good stead for a long time, but they were not who I was. How many other people are displaying artificial identities in order to hide their pain? How many have felt their insides suddenly drop when they recall what actually happened to them? Maybe the memory is triggered by hearing of another’s abuse. Maybe the Royal Commission should be held up as a demon, as Pell’s lawyer is doing, because – Shock! Horror! It is putting words to something a person thought they had imagined, or which made them believe they were crazy. There are always plenty of people to concur with a view like that, particularly in one’s close family.

In 1990, during the first media interview about FICH, a journalist exclaimed to Lew and I: “A priest wouldn’t do that!”  We are so used to hearing about child sex abuse in churches now, but for that familiarity to happen, many people had to face the incredulity we did.

How can someone who was 14 at the time of their abuse have a clue about what is going on in the fevered imagination of a predator? That’s what child sex abusers get off on, the innocence of the victim. Once they have used up the spirit of one virgin, they move to another. There is a never ending supply of emotionally needy kids.

When my younger daughter had ambitions to be in movies, she was signed up at an agency that found occasional work for her as an extra. One day the agency called me about an ad being made about a bicycle. They wanted to ‘capture’ the moment a child first experienced the thrill of riding a bike. It had to be a child who had never ridden a bike before. The moment of discovery, revealed in the expression on her face, would be ‘captured’.

It is similar for the child victim of a sexual assault. What my abuser wanted to ‘capture’ was that first moment when I experienced a sexual response. Once it is taken away from a victim and used to satiate a predator, that moment can never be given back.

Is it so surprising that some people bury that experience, bury themselves in fact, until the trauma of that moment returns in nightmares and waking melt-downs once too often, and they seek help from a therapist?  If that is a domino effect, bring it on!

Cheers

Sylvia

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