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Invisible scars of child sex abuse never heal

Date

Andrew* is a Sydney professional in his 50s who was abused as a child. Here he tells of the effect it had on his life and the impact the announcement of a royal commission into child abuse had on him.

My eyes fill with tears as I sit in the office kitchen having my lunch. My hands start shaking and there's a lump in my throat. I go back to my desk to avoid having to explain why I, a mature, well-educated man in a large organisation, am crying over my tuna salad.

It's news time and the large TV in the kitchen is covering another story about perpetrators of child sex abuse. I'm crying because I'm a survivor. I spend the rest of the day drinking coffee and trying to think clearly so I can work.

There have been several consequences of the regular sexual abuse I suffered between the ages of nine and 12. One of them is post-traumatic stress disorder, which I experienced as deep anxiety and nightmares.

I took antidepressants for years. I tend to be rather silent and I'm cautious of people. Loud noises make me jump, a condition called a startle response.

Shame and secrecy are some of the cruellest parts of abuse because they are based on the child's trust (or fear) of the abuser. I've had more than a decade of regular therapy sessions and I still see a therapist when I need to.

Some years ago, I told my wife and (adult) children and I've told some friends when it felt right. I find that exercise such as swimming and walking help.

There's a dilemma for me when I come across news items about the sexual abuse of children.

Hearing people describe what was done to me as a vile crime, monstrous and despicable, I feel vindicated and supported by the move to bring perpetrators (and their protectors) to justice and yet the widespread media coverage of abuse brings overwhelming feelings of hurt and distress.

I also have a mental conflict: I'm meant to be so privileged and powerful - white, Anglo-Saxon and male - and yet sometimes I feel utterly unsafe and vulnerable.

Physical scars heal but it seems that psychological trauma, especially to a child's brain, means a lifelong vulnerability.

If I read or watch stories about perpetrators, I find myself back in my elite English preparatory boarding school, a young child unable to escape from the assaults of a house master who slept next to our dormitories.

It was a privilege to go to my expensive school and it was a financial sacrifice by my parents, which only made it more difficult to tell anyone. I didn't tell anyone for 40 years, not until both my parents had died.

I accept some people cannot understand that psychological trauma can last 50 years, even with lots of therapy. What I struggle to understand is a denial of responsibility or lack of compassion from someone who leads an organisation that caused such trauma. My hurt and anger was deepened by the defiant response of Cardinal George Pell, who said the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests has been exaggerated. So much for compassion.

I feel proud the Australian government has announced a royal commission because it seems many organisations have protected perpetrators in their ranks and a society that cannot protect its children is seriously damaged.

*Andrew is not his real name.

For help go to www.sexualassault.nsw.gov.au.

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