Unaddressed trauma cannot heal
Gerry Georgatos works extensively in the suicide prevention space. Here he shares his experience of child sexual abuse.
Content warning: This article contains reference to child sexual abuse. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.
Despite the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse unveiling the tragedy of child sexual abuse and delivering the great good of validation, child sexual abuse remains one of the least discussed tragedies in the nation.
In my work with suicidality, I have firsthand testimony and witness of how extensive the impacts of child sexual abuse are. The word ‘impact’ does not signify anywhere near the extent of the hurt.
My colleagues and I have supported thousands who have presented suicidality, intersected by child sexual abuse trauma. I am not one to spill my personal stories, however, I have seen the power of people hurt by child sexual abuse in coming forward and telling their stories, paving the way forward. I have assisted many in their coming forward with their history. It is only right that I do too.
I was only nine-years-old when I was sexually assaulted by a man who, by all accounts, I should have been able to trust. The institutional setting was my primary school. The offender was a schoolteacher.
According to the Royal Commission, on average males take 33 years to tell someone at long last of such abuse. In my case, it was 47 years. Two years ago, I finally told my partner and then my only child. The telling was traumatic.
My father who loved me dearly passed away on Easter Friday 2014, and if he was still alive, I do not know if I could have told anyone what I told to my two most loved ones. I felt I could not break his heart and shatter the trust he had in the world, showing him the world could be so unjust and cruel.
In 1971, I had nowhere to turn to. That is because there was nowhere to turn to, not the institution of the school itself nor the police. My young years were lived in the early 1970s, a time of hideous silences. There was a hostility to such truth and a widespread disbelief of such events. These were indeed the times, as shown by the Royal Commission.
Nearly half a century would pass without me telling a single soul. For a little while, years ago, I saw a psychologist, however even then I did not divulge. I have never forgotten the psychologist’s inquiry, one which he persevered with, as to the well of my strength and resilience. He commented he could not understand, knowing more of my life than others do, from where I had drawn the endless strength and resilience that he believed I have.
I am proud of everyone who tells their history, and I am proud of those who don’t. I have lived both, the not telling of such a history and finally the telling of this history.
I remember being devastated, hostage to madness and fear, muddle minded by hysteria if I told my father. I believed he would bring physical harm on the offender—of this I was sure. I was also sure in those days of uglier racism than there is today, that justice would not go our way, and that my father would have been ostracised to a jail. Such was the mind’s eye of that scared little child in 1971.
Less than two months later after the most brutal rape, where I had frozen like the coldest ice, my family would journey to Greece. My father had not seen his father in 18 years. We would make it in time to see my grandfather in the last eight hours of his life.
Despite the great sadness of the trip where my father would bury his father, Greece was a relief for me from a sin harvested upon me that had me crying to sleep and in nightmares. I felt safe in Greece. Our trip was ten weeks long.
During the last evening I was distraught. Scores of relatives gathered in an evening farewell on the flat rooftop of an uncle’s home. I was only nine-years-old, but I became drunk on a bottle of red wine. My mother’s brother became so distressed by my inebriation that he emptied the last bottles of wine over the rooftop’s balcony. He despaired that I would become an alcoholic for reasons not understood.
My heartbreaking story is a story of many millions of people. I do not believe I need to tell much more other than it is okay to come forward.
Life is short. Our small claim to this brief stretch of life needs to be lived unencumbered by whatever is thrown at us.
It is my view that we should validate trauma and subsequently disable it to ensure it does not become a lifelong management issue. The Royal Commission categorised sexual abuse at nine-years-old and less as the worst.
I am now older than over two-thirds of all Australians and older than four-fifths of our world’s population. The telling of these stories are important so there is much less chance than ever before of what happened to me and countless others. It should not happen to the children of today and tomorrow.
Trauma that remains unaddressed and unresolved, cannot heal, and where there’s no healing, trauma becomes cumulative; transforming into negative, disordered thinking. Unaddressed child sexual abuse, in my view, is one of the worst forms of trauma which can degenerate to toxic internalised grief.
Today, there is more social justice than there has ever been in recorded history. In this understanding, we must remain solid in our journeying together to becoming better, safer and more loving societies.
The Royal Commission was a long overdue blessing: with over 8,000 private sessions held—more than 40,000 calls taken. It was validation of voices once unheard and invisible; of a shattering of the silence. Because of The Royal Commission there are now less of these abominations.
Though I understand the schoolteacher who hurt me was a predator toward multiple people, I have forgiven him. I do not hate him. Everyone is accountable foremost to oneself. No one can escape oneself. I have never sought to chase him down, though ironically, I have chased others down to the point of incarceration, because they were present threats to the safety, wellbeing and very life of others.
All forms of reparations, including compensation, are psychological positives to these injustices. The Redress Scheme is a step in the right direction. The National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project works alongside once invisible victims, particularly those intersected by poverty, to secure Redress payments and other expert and psychosocial supports.
There are an ever-increasing number of services spreading the love and supporting sisters and brothers.
If this article has raised any issues for you, please call or visit the resources below:
- Blue Knot Foundation – 1300 657 380, https://www.blueknot.org.au/or email email@example.com
- Bravehearts – 1800 272 831, https://bravehearts.org.au/
- 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732, https://www.1800respect.org.au/
- Lifeline – 13 11 14, https://www.lifeline.org.au/
By Gerry Georgatos
Gerry Georgatos is a non-Indigenous suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. Among his academic qualifications he has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy. He is the National Coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project.