Dealing with Pell.

22 Aug


Yesterday, Cardinal George Pell lost his appeal against his conviction of child sexual abuse.

Children, when allowed to develop without debilitating trauma, often have an innate sense of fairness, together with a belief and the expectation that justice must be and will be made to prevail.

When you’ve been sexually abused in your childhood, this trust in the order of things is one of the first things to crumble. The disintegration continues into adulthood as you see that your abuser faces no consequences for their crimes against you, while your life is a daily struggle with traumatic stress that leaves no part of your body and mind untouched.

You often experience this loss of trust as feelings of angry hopelessness, despair even, disillusionment and bitter disappointment. Though of course you the child can articulate none of this, it’s inchoate, and black.

You might also as an adult speak of these things in the third person, when you manage to speak of them at all, because that creates some small distance from a chaos that might otherwise engulf you. The I, while recommended as a means of owning one’s life experiences and a step to empowerment, can be a bridge too far when dealing with experiences you don’t actually want to own. I use I sparingly, when I feel strong. It is empowering. I wish I could do it more often. For the moment, switching between the two persons is the best I can do.

I could not bear to hope that Pell would lose his appeal. I could not bear to deal with the blow of yet again witnessing a powerful man, backed by other powerful men and their female consorts, backed by the power of institutions and two former prime ministers, get away with it. So I prepared myself for his, their, win. That meant in the main trying not to think about it and when that didn’t work, steeling myself, calling up all my resources, so that I wouldn’t be entirely undone by yet another set of traumatic injustices over which I had no control. It meant forbidding myself expectations of anything other than our loss and their win.

When I heard the judges’ decision I was home alone. An involuntary and guttural cry, not dissimilar to the primitive roar a woman often makes in the last stages of birth, was my first reaction. It had happened. He’d lost. The institutions had lost. The powerful men and their consorts had lost. Two former prime ministers had lost.  Survivors had won.

This was an unfamiliar relief, and it swept through me warm and strong. I didn’t have to deal with watching survivors lose again. You lose so much when you’re sexually abused, your losses are incalculable, this motif of crippling loss continues throughout your life and for many of us there comes a time when it is one loss too many, and we are done. A win over patriarchal power is rare and it is overwhelming. It makes you tremble, and it makes you fear that there will be consequences. How dare you defeat them?

The Pell verdict is just. It is an enormous victory yet at the same time, it changes little for individual survivors. Our childhoods remain stolen. For many of us, our potential remains curbed. Our daily struggles with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress continue. The fight for redress, in itself so horribly damaging and wickedly protracted by the guilty institutions, goes on.  This is a turbulent time for survivors. As glad as we might be to see Pell fall, it is a tortuous victory when our histories, triggered by the circumstances, engulf us.

Despite my emotional and mental turmoil I am immensely grateful for this verdict. It gives me some small hope that things are changing, that abusers, no matter how powerful, can be made accountable for crimes against children. That the powerful enablers are not able to silence us, no matter how much effort they devote to achieving that end. My abuser is long dead, and I will never know the satisfaction of seeing him publicly disgraced and imprisoned. My gratitude today is to J, the man who made this possible, the man who steadfastly confronted power with truth and in so doing gave me, and many others, this extraordinary chance to vicariously experience justice.












23 Responses to “Dealing with Pell.”

  1. Daniel Matthews August 22, 2019 at 7:36 am #

    Thanks for writing this Jennifer, as someone who was purely lucky to not be abused it provides great insight into the constant trauma/stress reactions survivors go through.

    Regards as always,


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Willow Thomas August 22, 2019 at 9:25 am #

    Beautifully written! I as a survivor felt that you were speaking my heart too. Thank you!
    Sending supportive fellow survivor hugs , Willow xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Moz of Yarramulla August 22, 2019 at 10:11 am #

    TBH I have avoided following the process because it’s just more upsetting than I want to deal with. I’m relieved that he’s lost again, hopefully this is the end of his appeals.

    Your comments at the start about perverting expectations ring very true. At a gut level I just can’t believe that anything I do will get treated fairly.

    I’m also still offended any time someone refers to a “justice system”. We don’t have one, we have a legal system. IF it produces justice that’s a happy accident.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Jennifer Wilson August 22, 2019 at 9:19 pm #

      Oh yes, Moz, your last sentence is spot on.
      I think he will have a crack at the High Court, they may or may not find he has grounds. I doubt he’ll give up yet, sadly.


  4. Maggie Galley August 22, 2019 at 10:17 am #

    i know this article is so true as I am the sister whose brother was abused as a 5 years old by an older cousin…not a priest but the same explanations exist for my brother who wonders what kind of person he would have been had he not been abused. its my lament fir him too.He has had a history of mental illness and is on medication and will be all his life.


    • Dr Jennifer Wilson August 22, 2019 at 9:18 pm #

      Yes, it’s the wondering what we might have become if our lives hadn’t been so drastically interrupted that is one of the difficult things. I am sorry your brother has to deal with so much.


  5. Rhyll McMaster August 22, 2019 at 11:13 am #

    I’m so sorry to realise that you had suffered this type of abuse, Jennifer, and so glad that justice has prevailed. It’s a big, big win.


  6. cordannao August 22, 2019 at 12:39 pm #

    I’m one of those people who couldn’t watch as things were unfolding. Was so sure that he’d win in this case. It wasn’t until I saw your tweet Sheepy, that I began to relax. The fear is still there that he will continue to fight until death does he part. With all the millions he has at his disposal he’ll never give up. With the pope saying they will wait til he’s exhausted all avenues before they continue their investigations, means the church is still protecting their interests and not the interests of survivors of abuse.
    Thank goodness for the strong support from many who believe & trust the complaintant. There’s nothing that G.P. can do now to change the truth. He can lie, cheat, spend more millions on seeking to change the verdict, but we know what is true and what is bought & paid for. Love to all.


    • Dr Jennifer Wilson August 22, 2019 at 9:15 pm #

      Yes, I’m pretty sure he’ll go to the High Court, no doubt with the Vatican’s assistance.


  7. samjandwich August 22, 2019 at 1:35 pm #

    Good news indeed. Well for my part Jennifer, I believe the world has changed. From what I can see there is now a widespread understanding that when someone says they have been sexually harmed then the default position is that they are to be believed; that if someone appears to be struggling with some unseen difficulty then we try to create an environment where they can feel supported and comfortable enough to talk about it in whatever way suits them best; and that the consequences of child sexual abuse are appalling and lifelong, that we all have a responsibility to prevent it, and that we all have some culpability when it does happen and an obligation to do what we can to help. I can also see that the courts and the judiciary are now sensitive to the fact that the machinations of power pervade right down into the smallest piece of evidence and that an intrinsic part of their job is to unpick this. And it seems to me that potential perpetrators have ample opportunity to understand all this too, and that they will not be allowed to get away with abusing children.

    It’s a cultural change, that has been singularly achieved by brave survivors like you and the man who testified against Pell, who have shared your hard-won wisdom with the rest of the world, even when by doing so you are knowingly making yourself vulnerable to further, unforeseeable assaults, whether externally or from within (which is not to say that people who don’t speak up aren’t contributing – doing all you can is contribution enough). I’m sure those of us like myself who have not been abused will keep making mistakes and saying insensitive things, because we will never really understand what it’s like, but you have created the conditions to enable some informed empathy, and we will keep trying to inform ourselves. So I am so sorry for everything that’s happened, but – thank you.


  8. Jenny Hickinbotham August 22, 2019 at 7:50 pm #

    Great commentary on the lived experience of child abuse survival and PATRIACHY POWER!!!!! I am 62 and finally work as a Team leader, within the mental health industry. so lucky now, and lucky I survived in tact. thanks for the read.


  9. Nelly Dean August 23, 2019 at 9:31 am #

    I relate to every single word ! My abuser was my father but the results are the same ! I’ve learnt that when people have extreme reactions to my story of sexual abuse they are either victims who’ve not sort help or admitted their pain to themselves OR THEY ARE PERPETRATORS of abuse . Then I ask them which one are you ?


  10. Nelly Dean August 23, 2019 at 9:53 am #

    Thankyou for writing this ! It feels like I have someone in my corner with a voice to speak for many of us ! I’ve claimed from victims compensation for therapy that I know I’ll be using for the rest of my life . I’ve been in therapy since 14 but it was sporadic until my mid 20s . Since then I’ve had a phycologists up my sleeve . I’ve also received monetary some compensation but they won’t allow me to claim for the physical abuse ! For all of us abuse survivors we need to band tog n demand compensation via therapy and monetary means . I’ve used my money to buy an on-site van on our nth coast for when the going gets to much . It’s the best action I’ve ever taken for myself . I’m telling my story here because this feels like a safe place and I want to enable my fellow survivors to benefit from the meagrely services available .

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Toni Lontis August 24, 2019 at 10:50 am #

    What a powerful piece…please keep writing about the trauma abuse leaves! I’m grateful you do!


  12. Diannaart August 24, 2019 at 12:49 pm #

    Thank you for writing this visceral piece.

    While the verdict provided some relief, I pondered the resources Pell has, how deep are the pockets of his supporters. Very, I am sure.

    So, we can expect an appeal to the High Court. And expect further gut wrenching trauma for victims of Pell, his religion and the far too powerful, yet again.

    Meanwhile, children are kept in detentions, or placed into servitude or simply neglected.

    Fuck this world.


  13. doug quixote August 25, 2019 at 2:32 pm #

    He can try to appeal further, but I for one was quite sure he wouldn’t succeed at the Supreme Court level and he has even less chance in the High Court.

    Who knows, as a conservative, hair shirt kind of Christian he might even like his new accommodations.

    Long may he stay there.


  14. Ian Bolton August 27, 2019 at 8:50 pm #

    How many times have we seen George heading to court accompanying the latest priest charged with child abuse and the church paying the costs (for the accused) without hesitation, while the victims are treated with contempt by the church fighting tooth and nail against any justifiable compensation. The only downside of his incarceration is that it has lowered the standard of inmates in her Majesties Prisons.


  15. telfercronos February 26, 2021 at 9:53 am #

    Hi, How does getting a false conviction allow you to “vicariously experience justice”?
    Richard Mullins



  1. Dealing with Pell - » The Australian Independent Media Network - August 23, 2019

    […] This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep. […]


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