Jane* who is now 42 years of age, and was sexually abused in the 1980s as an eight-year-old girl by deceased priest of the Diocese, Denis McAlinden, embraced the opportunity to suggest an idea.
Speaking with Maureen O’Hearn, who has been the Coordinator of Healing and Support for 11 years, Jane put forward the idea of working with a photographer to capture events or items that have helped calm people affected by abuse. As a form of visual storytelling it could be shared and interpreted by a wide audience. The idea resonated with another survivor, Rhonda Baker, a person affected by abuse who took up the invitation to take part in the initiative.
Upon completing her visual storytelling with the photographer, Jane explained the process was initially nerve-wracking, “but once I got my head around it, it felt quite empowering and added another layer to the healing process”.
“I found it beneficial to talk about my experience in a different setting to a psychologist or lawyers’ office,” Jane said. “Doing it visually was a lot more freeing. When you go on a journey like this, you do a lot of talking, and it was nice to see the story being told differently.
“Being part of the project, I have proven to myself that my brain can work again. It was a safe place to challenge myself and do something I think is really meaningful.”
Ms Baker said she too liked the freedom to visually express her experience and healing.
“I still bottle a lot up,” Ms Baker said. “There’s no way in the world that I would be able to get up and talk to anybody about what went on.”
“The Healing and Support team understands that everyone’s experience is unique, and something that suits one person may not necessarily suit someone else,” Ms O’Hearn said.
“We also respect that some people may choose not to be involved or that they would like to acknowledge the day in their way, and not be involved in a diocesan initiative. We will continue to be led by how people affected by abuse would like to commemorate the day, which will determine the form it takes each year. Next year may be entirely different.”
When asked about her feelings towards the Perpetual Day of Remembrance, Jane said: “I think it’s very important that the day continues to be led by people affected by abuse. People have different journeys and they should be empowered to tell their story.”
Ms Baker agreed, saying she encourages others to get involved and put forward ideas for future initiatives.
“I want more people to stand up and come forward if they are hiding it or holding it in,” Ms Baker said. “I hope that someone sees our visual storytelling and thinks ‘I’ve been abused, and if she can survive for that long, than I can do it too’.”
The visual storytelling below documents Jane and Rhonda’s personal story of abuse and healing, which they have elected to share with a public audience. Their stories are in no way intended to represent the experiences of others. If this article or their visual storytelling raises any issues for you, please feel free to contact the diocesan Healing and Support team (Zimmerman Services) for support by calling (02) 4979 9139 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional counselling support is also available by contacting the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 (9am – 5pm Mon – Sat) or Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24-hour support).
Jane* is not the real name of the person included in this article, a pseudonym has been used for privacy reasons.