For 20 years, Richard Jabara lived with the memory of his abuse – then he read an article that would change his life.
- The In Good Faith Foundation has partnered with LOUD Fence to create a day of recognition and support for survivors of sexual abuse
- Abuse survivor Richard Jabara says sharing his story has been difficult, but things have changed for the better
- Another survivor, Tiffany Skeggs, says she hopes National Day will spark conversations and lead to more change
It was the 1970s and Mr. Jabara was only 13 years old.
His family had moved to Australia from the United States. Originally settled in Queensland, they eventually made the journey south to Melbourne.
In Melbourne, Mr Jabara was groomed and raped by a Catholic priest.
That same year, he was sexually assaulted at Xavier College, a prestigious Catholic school that has since had to come to terms with his past.
For two decades he lived with his pain.
“I just felt embarrassed,” he said.
“I didn’t really want to say ‘this is what happened to me’ because obviously it involved a priest, he was a man – it was a bit of a stigma for me.”
It was an article in The Age that set him on the path he is on today – another survivor’s story.
“As I was reading the article and hearing his story, he was another man, and telling him about the struggles he was having in his life, I said ‘well, that’s me'” , did he declare.
“There was a little line at the end saying if you’re being abused you need to come forward and that’s what made me come forward.”
While Mr Jabara has successfully pursued a civil action against the school and Catholic priest Terrence Pidito has been jailed for his crimes against several boys, it has not been an easy journey.
“When I introduced myself to the people around me, they didn’t believe,” he said.
“Actually they didn’t believe I was telling the truth. They thought ‘really? This hasn’t happened to you Richard’.”
That was about 20 years ago and a lot has changed since then.
There was a royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the federal government issued an apology to victims and survivors of institutional abuse in 2018, and Mr Jabara saw survivor Grace Tame named Australian of the year.
“It was an acknowledgment that survivors need to be heard,” he said.
“When I came forward, survivors, we were a little inconvenient to the church and other authorities.
“If a person comes forward now, yes, they are believed, yes, there is support.”
The significance of Grace Tame’s award was felt by child sexual abuse victims across the country, including survivor Tiffany Skeggs.
“It was a moment in our history that put child sexual abuse on the national stage,” Ms Skeggs said.
“This is the moment when our whole country came together and realized that this problem was much bigger, much more pervasive and deeply rooted than we ever acknowledged and some of it still is. .”
Ms Skeggs was groomed and abused as a teenager by a man she met while playing netball.
The man, who also worked as a nurse on a pediatric ward at Launceston General Hospital for 18 years, killed himself after being charged with multiple child sex abuse offences.
Ms Skeggs was the first woman to come forward to the police.
Her story was one of the catalysts for Tasmania’s Commission of Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – an inquiry which uncovered stories of horrific abuse in institutions across the state.
“[Speaking out] was one of the most terrifying, shameful and fulfilling times of my life,” she said.
“To me, it was worth it to bring attention to the cause that she truly deserves.”
In the few months since Ms Skeggs shared her story, she has become a strong advocate for victims of sexual abuse.
Now, she has joined Mr. Jabara and the In Good Faith Foundation and LOUD Fence Inc. to launch the first National Survivors Day on November 15.
They’re asking people to wear a multicolored ribbon, engage on social media with the hashtag #everyvoice, and donate for the day.
Ms Skeggs said the day would not only honor survivors of sexual abuse, but also family members, staff, whistleblowers and others affected by the abuse.
“Child sexual abuse can no longer be taboo. It needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds,” Ms Skeggs said.
She said the symbolism of the era would have meant a lot to her as a child.
“Knowing that people cared about me and would be believed and more importantly that what I was going through was not my fault,” she said.
“It might not have gotten me to come out and disclose this abuse on the same day, but it would have at least sparked that little idea in my mind or that conversation I had with someone to say ‘hey , this is what I am experiencing , I don’t think this is normal. Can you help me please?’
“These are the important conversations that a day like today will allow us to have.”
Keep the problem in the spotlight
In good faith, chief executive Clare Leaney said a national day would help de-stigmatize the experiences of survivors.
“They need to be heard, they need to be believed, and they need to know they have a supportive community behind them,” she said.
She said the day was about showing her support, but also making sure the issue remained in the spotlight.
“That message of support is so important for survivors to see, especially when it comes from a broad social group, because it tells them there’s this opportunity to speak up, there’s this opportunity to engage. “, she said.
“There is still a long way to go, and we absolutely must continue to have the conversation to prevent abuse from happening again in the future.”
As part of the day, she wants to generate an annual report to understand what the community impacts of institutional violence and sexual assault have been, and to try to understand how many people have been affected.
As for Mr. Jabara, he said the day was about letting survivors know that their community had their backs and that it was safe for them to come forward if they wanted to.
“If I hadn’t come forward, I don’t think I would be the person I am today,” he said.
“While there are other victims out there, survivors – and I think there are tens of thousands of them – the Royal Commission has shown that only one in seven people come forward.”
“If you hear my story, there is nothing to be ashamed of and there is support for you.”
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