CENTRAL Victoria's Centre Against Sexual Assault is bracing for the fallout from the High Court's decision to overturn Cardinal George Pell's conviction for child sex abuse.
The specialist centre is expecting a spike in calls from existing clients distressed by what this morning's decision brought forward for them, as well as survivors who might never have disclosed abuse before.
"It is really going to reinforce or discourage people to have belief in the justice system and to actually come forward and report abuse, whether it be at the hands of an institution or an individual," Kate Wright, CASA Central Victoria's chief executive, said of the High Court's decision.
"The fact the burden of proof has been found not to be supported - that there is reasonable doubt around George Pell's guilt - contradicts the messages that are so important for survivors of sexual abuse and reinforces the lack of trust in both the criminal and justice systems."
Vital messages such as, you will be believed. You will receive justice. You will be treated fairly. You won't be re-traumatised by the system.
COVID-19 update— CASA Forum (@CasaForum) April 1, 2020
Our members continue to provide essential services to people impacted by sexual assault.
For info and resources: https://t.co/8MpFDMTRQx
For crisis support: call the Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292
In an emergency: call 000@FamilySafetyVic@VicGovDHHS
Ms Wright said the statewide sector would have further conversations about the changes needed to ensure consistency within the justice system for all victims of sexual violence.
The sector had already been calling for reform around how sexual assault cases were prosecuted and sentenced, nationally and in Victoria.
"Again, we have to question who the burden of proof is on - often it's the victim, not the perpetrator" Ms Wright said.
She said the sector already knew victim survivors were reluctant to take matters to the police, and then to actually progress them through the justice system.
"This outcome will push that further back in people's minds," Ms Wright said.
She expected Cardinal Pell's acquittal to reinforce certain beliefs for people that had experienced institutional abuse, particularly at the hands of the Catholic Church.
"One that we want people to know is, if they tell someone, they will be believed," Ms Wright said.
We know today's High Court decision to uphold Cardinal George Pell appeal against conviction will be difficult news for victims and survivors of abuse. This is a particularly challenging time for many, who are without support networks and others to comfort them. 1/2— CentreForNonViolence (@CentNonViolence) April 7, 2020
Victoria Police released a statement in the wake of the High Court's decision reaffirming its commitment to investigating sexual assault offences and providing justice for victims, no matter how many years had passed.
Ms Wright said it was pleasing to see.
She encouraged people affected by the outcome of Cardinal Pell's appeal to practice self-care.
"If they need to not watch the news, not to watch it; call us, and if they need after-hours support to call the Sexual Assault Crisis Line," Ms Wright said.
Self-care might look different given the COVID-19 restrictions, but Ms Wright urged people to use the mechanisms they had to reach out to people that would support them, whether it be friends, family or professionals.
She said the COVID-19 pandemic would not prevent CASA Central Victoria staff from responding to calls and providing assistance.
"Our message for them is we are here to support you, and you will be believed," Ms Wright said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews responded in the same vein, releasing a five-paragraph statement:
"I make no comment about today's High Court decision," Mr Andrews said.
"But I have a message for every single victim and survivor of child sex abuse:
"I see you.
"I hear you.
"I believe you."
The following resources are available If you or someone you know is in need of help:
CASA Central Victoria - 03 5441 0430 (Mon to Fri, 9am-5pm)
Sexual Assault Crisis Line - 1800 806 292
1800 RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service - 1800 737 732
In an emergency, phone 000