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Sexual abuse survivors launch national day to encourage others to speak up

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A man being interviewed about abuse in the church

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For 20 years, Richard Jabara lived with the memory of his abuse – then he read an article that would change his life.

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.

A black and white photo of a young boy with blond hair
Childhood abuse survivor Richard Jabara.(Provided)

“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.”

Woman with her hair in a bun wearing a jacket, standing outdoors.
Ms Skeggs’ case was one of the catalysts for the Tasmania Commission of Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

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.

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