COVERAGE of Cardinal George Pell's conviction and sentencing for sexual offending against two 13-year-old choir boys has triggered a surge in calls to Centres Against Sexual Assault.
Loddon Campaspe CASA chief executive Kate Wright said callers were in some cases disclosing historical sexual abuse for the first time.
There had also been an increase in contact from former clients reporting re-emerging difficulties.
'There is no immunity' - CASA
THE region's Centre Against Sexual Assault has deemed the conviction and sentencing of Cardinal George Pell for sexual offences against two 13-year-old choir boys in the 1990s 'a step in the right direction'.
Loddon Campaspe CASA chief executive Kate Wright expected the sentence handed down yesterday by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd would provide victims of sexual assault with confidence and belief the criminal justice system could deliver outcomes based on evidence.
"It reinforces that the impact of the crime on the victim will be taken into account when sentencing. And that regardless of you who you are regardless of your standing in society there is no immunity," Ms Wright said.
Pell was sentenced to a maximum of six years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.
Pell will also be registered as a sex offender. He is appealing against his conviction.
A jury unanimously convicted the cardinal in December of five charges: one offence of Sexual Penetration of a Child under 16 years and four offences of committing an Indecent Act with or in the presence of a Child under 16 years.
Pell was the Archbishop of Melbourne at the time of the offending.
"The sentence may not seem long enough for many people but the fact it has a non-parole period of three years is significant," Ms Wright said.
"The justice system has a long way to go in processing and hearing sexual assault cases but this really is a step in right direction."
She said Centres Against Sexual Assault had received a surge in telephone calls from people seeking assistance and, in some cases, disclosing historical abuse for the first time after many years.
"We have also had an increase in former clients contacting our services [with] difficulties from their own past childhood sexual assaults re-emerging," Ms Wright said.
"For many people that experienced child abuse within institutions and/or within family setting this may a be a very painful and upsetting time.
"Terrible memories may be flooding their thoughts and past and current abuse may be dominant in their minds.
"Please know that it is never too late to seek assistance from specialist services and it is never too late to pursue a justice response. You will be believed and there is support available."
In his sentencing, Judge Kidd described the initial episode of offending in the St Patrick's Cathedral priests' sacristy in the latter part of 1996 as a 'brazen and forcible sexual attack'.
"The acts were sexually graphic," the judge said.
He identified 'a degree of physical aggression and venom' in the second episode, which occurred over a month later, in the back corridor leading past the priests' sacristy following Sunday Solemn Mass.
Judge Kidd rejected the defence's submissions that Pell was not acting rationally when the offending occurred.
He found the 'appalling' offending the jury had found the cardinal to have engaged in to have been 'breathtakingly arrogant' and said the 'stark' power imbalance between the victims and the perpetrator added to the seriousness of the matter.
"Your obvious status as Archbishop cast a powerful shadow over this offending," Judge Kidd said.
"Not only do I consider that you offended in breach of your relationship of trust, and in abuse of your power and authority, I would characterise these breaches and abuses as grave."
It is never too late to seek assistance from specialist services and it is never too late to pursue a justice response.Kate Wright, Loddon Campaspe CASA
He took into consideration the 'publicity and stigma' associated with the case and made a point of stipulating Pell was not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.
"This leads me to say something to other victims of clerical or institutional sexual abuse who may be present in court today or watching or listening elsewhere: This sentence is not and cannot be a vindication of your trauma," Judge Kidd said.
"Cardinal Pell has not been convicted of any wrongs committed against you. Cardinal Pell does not fall to be punished for any such wrongs.
"I recognise that you seek justice, but it can only be justice if it is done in accordance with the rule of law. For me to punish Cardinal Pell for the wrongs committed against you would be contrary to the rule of law and it would not be justice at all."
RELATED: George Pell sentenced to six years
Bishop of Sandhurst Leslie Tomlinson believed Cardinal Pell's sentencing was an occasion of great distress to many people, which impacted on the Church and her members.
"At this time we are especially conscious of those who have suffered abuse and the effect such abuse has had on their lives," he said. "We acknowledge the courage of survivors living with the effects of abuse and seeking to rebuild their lives.
"Being people of faith, Catholics, in this penitential season of Lent, are especially focused on the sufferings of Jesus Christ and His condemnation to crucifixion. His example and compassion can be a great source of comfort and strength as we commit ourselves to eradicating evil and countering this evil with the love and forgiveness we strive to show as Jesus’ followers."
Advice from CASA
We realise that these are difficult times for people who have been sexually assaulted in their childhood.
It is difficult to avoid hearing details of various crimes. However, if you are finding the situation overwhelming be kind to yourself and take care of yourself by:
- Limiting your exposure to the various media around including social media.
- You do not have to read, watch or listen to everything if it is causing you distress.
- Talk to a counsellor or close, trusted friend if you are finding it particularly hard. Call 1800 806 292 which is the 24 hour Sexual Crisis Line.
- Keep to a routine or establish a routine. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat regular meals. A routine can help you settle down.
- Treat yourself to activities that you enjoy. Watch your favourite show on TV, have a bath, listen to music, reflexology. Have a massage if you enjoy them.
- Meditate if that is an activity you enjoy. We tend to meditate when we feel good not when we need to re centre ourselves.
- If work is proving challenging take a day off and pamper yourself.
If you or someone you know needs support, call the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292 or 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). To reach LCCASA, call 5441 0430.
In an emergency, call 000.