Everyday thousands of children are being sexually abused. You can stop the abuse of at least one child by simply praying. You can possibly stop the abuse of thousands of children by forwarding the link in First Time Visitor? by email, Twitter or Facebook to every Christian you know. Save a child or lots of children!!!! Do Something, please!

3:15 PM prayer in brief:
Pray for God to stop 1 child from being molested today.
Pray for God to stop 1 child molestation happening now.
Pray for God to rescue 1 child from sexual slavery.
Pray for God to save 1 girl from genital circumcision.
Pray for God to stop 1 girl from becoming a child-bride.
If you have the faith pray for 100 children rather than one.
Give Thanks. There is more to this prayer here

Please note: All my writings and comments appear in bold italics in this colour

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Corey Artz, David Ridsdale and the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission

The complex, confusing, inter-generational world
of child sex abuse

Corey Artz: ‘I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I have my days, my real bad days.’ Picture: Heath Missen

TRENT DALTON
The Weekend Australian Magazine, Brisbane

He called it magic, the secret ways he could conjure ­particular sensations inside the 12-year-old boy from Ballarat if he cared to slip his pants down. And magic it was, of a kind. The boy was transformed through that cruel and endless year of 1984; the magic man’s quiet bushland car seat tricks cast their spell, a curse that followed the boy through the next three decades of his life, could make him freeze at the sound of a name, make him crumble at the sight of a face. Like magic. A dazzling, show-stopping 30-year disappearing act, where a loving husband and devoted father of three boys disintegrates before the eyes of his loved ones, vanishes into nothing.

Since May 2013, the groundbreaking Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has conducted more than 5000 private sessions with abuse survivors in small offices and modest hotel rooms in towns and cities across the country. These sessions have pivoted around breaking points, those threshold moments when the storm of the past hits with its greatest force; stories of people unexpectedly wetting themselves at work, people having panic attacks at children’s birthday parties.

The storm hit Corey Artz last August when he was at the kitchen stove, boiling peas for ­dinner. His wife, Wendy, was on his right, ­talking to his son Lachlan, on his left; another ordinary night in their Mt Tamborine home in the Gold Coast hinterland. Unbeknown to Wendy, her husband – the knockabout, happy-go-lucky, 42-year-old car salesman – had attempted to take his life earlier that day.

His storm was born of noise and memory, the sound and vision static of a hundred print and television news pieces detailing a history of widespread child abuse by leaders from Catholic institutions throughout his boyhood home of Ballarat. It felt like every time he turned on the radio or TV or picked up a paper last year he was confronted with the crimes of Gerald ­Ridsdale, the Ballarat priest who abused at least 54 children as young as four years old through the 1960s and 1980s. And there, too, was David Ridsdale, the 49-year-old de facto spokesman for Ballarat abuse survivors, a man who somehow survived a four-year period of horrific sexual abuse by his uncle Gerald and emerged, three decades later, as a brave and public flag-bearer for fellow victims demanding the Catholic Church and Cardinal George Pell be held accountable for the long-silent sins of the past. David Ridsdale has had Cardinal Pell squarely and vocally in his crosshairs since 2002, when he publicly accused Pell of attempting to bribe him in a 1993 phone conversation to stay quiet about the sickening abuse by his uncle, a one-time housemate of Pell’s.

Corey and his wife Wendy. Picture: Heath Missen

Corey broke down that night by the stove, collapsed into an inexplicable and uncontrol­lable flood of tears. Wendy, a deeply caring long-time school teacher, helped him to his bed, where Corey fell into what he calls a “full mental breakdown”. He was admitted to the Gold Coast University Hospital that night and stayed for a week in the mental health unit where he detailed the story of his past, the story of the magic man, to mental health professionals.

“Ridsdale,” he said, to anyone who asked.

And he always got the same horrified response. “Gerald Ridsdale?” they would gasp.

And he always gave the same painful clarification: “Nah, mate. I mean David Ridsdale.”

His fallback instinct is to smile. It’s a nerve thing. He smiles and laughs when he talks about the gravest things, a coping mechanism. Even as a boy in schoolyard scraps, Corey would smile and laugh as a bully landed a fist on his teeth. And he smiles now when he tells Hetty Johnston he’s been given a date for his private session with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. “May 4, 8.30am,” he says, sitting beside Wendy in the boardroom of the Gold Coast office of Johnston’s Bravehearts national child protection advocacy group.

“You need someone to go with you?” ­Johnston asks.

“Yeah, might,” he says.

Johnston leans in to the desk. “Anytime you want to bail out, you bail out, you understand,” she says. “You call the shots now. You play it your way.”

“Nah, I’m good as gold,” Corey says. “I’m actually relieved.”

Corey has spent the past week thinking about Lachlan, his youngest son. His boy is only a year older than Corey was in 1984. He tries to compare Lachlan’s knowledge and awareness to that of his 12-year-old self in ’84. He’s been wondering what Lachlan might say to a man who asked him, “Do you want me to show you my magic powers?”

“I mean, magic?” he says, shaking his head, tears filling his eyes. “Seriously? It’s not real, right?”

“You were a kid, Corey,” says Johnston.

“Yeah,” he says, nodding. He’s told himself that deep truth for 30 years but it won’t sink in, that simple answer to almost every question regarding why. You were a kid. You were a kid. You were a f...ing kid.

He was 12, the older brother to siblings Jamie and Renae, son to stay-at-home mum Diane and dad Martin, who was often away from home driving coaches interstate for Deluxe Coachlines. They lived in Ballarat’s working class Wendouree West, where he joyfully rode his Malvern Star through Housing Commission streets full of breaking windows and car carcasses rusting on blocks all the way into town to the YMCA, where brother Jamie dazzled young gym audiences with his 1980s breakdance moves. “That’s how I met David Ridsdale,” he says. “He was one of the youth leaders there.”

David Ridsdale. Picture: Ella Pellegrini

One Friday night at a YMCA disco, Jamie was caught up in a fight that saw him rushed to hospital, accompanied by David, who would later befriend Corey’s mum, Diane. She was grateful for the care he showed her son. “My mum always craved friendship with people,” Corey says. “Because my dad was away quite a lot. She became quite friendly with three of the youth leaders from YMCA, one of which was David. Then on Friday and Saturday nights they’d often come around for what we referred to as video nights.

“It would generally start off in the late afternoon when David would say, ‘Do you want to come for a drive to the video shop?’”

In his first print interview in August 1994, where he went public in the Herald Sun with details of the despicable abuse wrought by his uncle, David Ridsdale spoke of idolising Gerald Ridsdale prior to the abuse. In his May 2015 Royal Commission statement he spoke of a man who “held an almost supernatural level of power in our family. Gerald was charismatic and many were in awe of him.”

Corey saw David in a similarly bright light. “He was cool to me,” he says. “I was 12 and he was 18. He’s the cool dude, you know. You wanna go for a drive? The big attraction, as silly as it sounds, was that I got to pick the video.”

Corey takes a deep breath, tightens his right-hand grip on Wendy’s hand. On the way home, David took a detour into what Corey remembers as one of two bushland areas: “I keep thinking it was Black Hill or Brown Hill at the back of Ballarat. He’d pull the car over and you’d think, ‘Aw, what’s goin’ on here?’ And then he said – and I was a 12-year-old kid so I can’t remember the exact words – but it was along the lines of, ‘I’ve got magic powers, do you want me to show you my magic powers?’ ”

And this is the turning point, the juncture at which Corey Artz’s life deviates from its natural course, the point from which, on his down days, his mind wanders down alternative paths to places unseen, to outcomes unmet. “I don’t know what else I might have been,” he says. “Like, is this me? Am I being the class clown because of this? I don’t know. Am I an extrovert because this happened to me? Can I not masturbate because this happened to me? You’re always asking yourself little questions. Would my life have been different if this hadn’t happened? My life’s not horrible, don’t get me wrong, I have a beautiful wife and three beautiful kids and we live in a nice house and we’ve got good jobs, but the down times, it’s always in the back of your head; you can’t ever forget it. And, to this day, I don’t even know how it affected me.”

In the passenger seat of that car in the bushland, Corey’s stomach told him immediately that it wasn’t magic he was being shown but he had been tricked all the same. “He’d take his pants down and I had to take my pants down,” he says, pausing through his words. “Ummm… and he’d start masturbating… and, consequently, I’d have to do the same thing, and then I’d have to do it to him. I vividly remember I just did not like it at all. I hated it. It didn’t feel right for starters, but I just didn’t like the actual physical feel of it and, to this day, I still can’t do that. I still can’t… do the business.”

He gives one of those defence mechanism chuckles, a big, painful red-cheeked smile that holds nothing but sorrow in it. “Once it would finish, that’s when the threats would start. He would say, and it wasn’t in a violent way, it wasn’t him yelling at me, he said, ‘Look, you can’t tell your mum and dad about this because, if you do, the devil’s gonna kill ’em. The devil’s gonna kill your family. This has got to stay between us.’”

Corey was educated by nuns at Our Lady Help of Christians School in Wendouree. He was an altar boy. His 12-year-old mind thought in extremes. Good and evil. God and the devil. “To me, in those days, there really was a devil and there really was a God,” he says. “So what this bloke was saying really was real.”

David Ridsdale was equally pious at the same age, believing his mother had him earmarked for the priesthood. He was 11 years old when his uncle first sexually abused him. “We were in a car on a parishioner’s farm in ­Edenhope where he was teaching me to drive,” he says in his Royal Commission statement. “He stopped the car and undid my pants and began to pull my penis out to play with it.”

“You’re scared,” says Corey, recalling his own experience. “It’s intimidating. I just kept thinking of my family. Your mum and dad and your brother and your sister are your life and that’s all you’ve got and you’re scared, knowing that one of them could be harmed because of something you could potentially say. It was real, mate.”

Gerald Risdale in 1994.

To protect his family, he shouldered the gravest darkness, locked it deep inside himself. “That’s so typical, just so you know,” Hetty ­Johnston says, across the table. “They prey on that. The offenders try to make them complicit in what’s going on. Silence, secrecy, shame and fear. The offender’s best friends and the kid’s worst enemies. It’s an art form they hone and they can offend under people’s noses and no one even knows. Like magicians.”

Corey recalls driving with Ridsdale to that dreadful bushland on three separate occasions during a family friendship that lasted through much of 1984. One ­harrowing assault occurred on VFL grand final day that year. Hawthorn ­versus Essendon. “It’s probably worse the second and third time because you know what’s about to happen but you don’t feel like you have the power to stop it.” He looks at his wife, Wendy, her bottom lip trembling, holding herself back from weeping. “But I’ve got the power to hop in the car with him or not hop in the car,” he says. “But I don’t. Why did I hop in the car?”

You were a kid. You were a kid.

David Ridsdale was a man but he was not long before that a tortured, deeply confused boy. He had been sickeningly abused by his uncle up to the age of 15. “As a teenager, I lived in terror that my growing sexual feelings were indicative that I had a predatory nature, like Gerald,” he says in the Royal Commission statement. “When I was about 16 or 17, I started telling my peers about my abuse. I had been working with people of my age in youth and social programs at the YMCA and issues of abuse had been raised which triggered memories and a new understanding of what had ­happened to me. I began to confide in my ­fellow volunteers and, almost without fail, all of them said that some form of abuse had happened to them. At that time, I had a perception that this was a normal part of society.”

It is here in Ridsdale’s 17-page statement that he might have chosen to publicly acknowledge his abuse of Corey Artz. But, for reasons known only to him, he did not, though the Royal ­Commission is aware of his offences. The ­Australian has twice offered, through his ­lawyers, to properly articulate Ridsdale’s ­doubtlessly complex side of the story and twice that offer has been declined. “If he had acknowledged it then I would go, ‘All right, I can see that this is someone who is trying’,” says Johnston. “People would give him the benefit of the doubt.”

“I think if you’re going to expose the truth,” says Wendy, “expose the whole truth, don’t just give a part of it.”

Corey nods, keeping his thoughts inside, for now. And keeping thoughts inside is a skill he mastered long ago. “My dark secret,” he says. “I just carried it. And the longer it goes on the more you can’t say anything because why didn’t you say anything before? You don’t relive it, but you don’t have a day go by that you don’t think about it for some stupid reason.”

Then, in a world of extremes, a miracle. In 1985, when Corey was 13, his dad, Martin, announced he was taking a coach driving job on the Gold Coast, 1700km from Ballarat. Corey never saw David Ridsdale again in the flesh.

Corey was 19 when he and his brother, Jamie, then 18, joined friends for drinks at the Southport RSL. Late in the evening, one lively friend raised one of those absurd hypothetical drunken conversation starters: “OK, if you could kill one person in the world, who would it be?”

It was a reflex action, beyond his control. “David Ridsdale,” Corey blurted. The only other person at the table who knew that name was Jamie. “I told him the story later that night,” Corey says. “I was so relieved to talk to him about it. I’d had it locked away for eight years. And now, finally, for some reason, that moment just happened. Bang.”

Jamie was beautiful that night. Caring and supportive, with a deep understanding that emboldened Corey, soon after, to disclose the ordeal to his parents.

Here’s David Ridsdale on his moment of confession: “From the age of 15 I told a close family member on at least five occasions that I had been abused by Gerald. By the fifth time I bluntly said, ‘Gerald has been molesting me’. Rather than respond to my comment, the close family member just said, ‘I hope one of your ­sisters would return to the church one day’. It was as if they did not hear what I had just said.”

Corey as a boy.

“My folks were gutted,” Corey says. “Absolutely distraught by it. They blamed themselves. Dad felt guilt for not being there and Mum felt guilt for letting him in the house.”

He’d unlocked his dark secret, but Corey wasn’t ready to take the matter further. He met Wendy in 1994, both working for peanuts price-checking at Freedom Furniture. Wendy was at a university teaching lecture when Corey slipped her a note saying, ‘Will you marry me?’ Six months later, they were engaged and living at Wendy’s parents’ house.

One evening, while his wife and parents-in-law were in the kitchen, Corey plopped himself on the living room couch and switched on the television, confronted immediately by a news report on the many crimes of Gerald Ridsdale and the journey of his most high-profile victim, David Ridsdale. “And there’s his face and his name and I was just, like, ‘What?’” says Corey. “You’ve tried to bury it and then, bang, it’s like a big punch in the face. My family knew, but I hadn’t told Wendy. It’s just not one of those things you say. ‘Nice to meet you, I was molested as a kid’. We went to bed that night and I started hyperventilating.”

“He was lying beside me and he was sucking in breaths,” says Wendy, tears filling her eyes as she talks. “I thought there was something wrong with his heart, that it was some sort of heart attack. But it was an anxiety attack.”

That night, hospital social workers urged Corey to make a statement to police. “That’s when I made the decision to fly down to ­Melbourne and make a statement in Ballarat Police Station,” he says. “It was ’94-95, I was 22 or 23, and it was made worse by the attitude of the police officers. It was like, ‘This happened 10 years ago, mate, what are you doing here now?’ That’s what it was like back then.”

Today, groups like Bravehearts champion the Sexual Assault Disclosure Scheme, which allows survivors to disclose their abuse with care, confidence and discretion. Moreover, Bravehearts runs a prevention program, Turning Corners, for potential young offenders. “For young ­people who have been harmed and are starting to exhibit harming behaviours against others,” says ­Johnston. “We’re intervening there before they continue to travel up that road.

“That said, while it’s an indicator, or a risk factor, for kids who have been offended against to go on to offend themselves, most do not. It’s a great myth perpetuated by the perpetrators because it silences the victim. Men won’t admit to abuse because people are going to think they’ll have offending tendencies. Male survivors tell us this frequently, that they didn’t speak up because they feared being thought of as a sex offender themselves or that they’re somehow weak. It silences them.”

In his bloodletting interview with the Herald Sun in 1994, David Ridsdale appeared to feel the same way: “[Gerald] Ridsdale claimed to have been molested as a child but David, a ­psychiatric nurse, refuses to accept the abused-becomes-abuser excuse for his uncle’s horrific actions. Despite this, David said his greatest fear was that he might have become like his uncle, ­especially with his own children.”

Corey made his statement to police and moved on with his life as best he could.

In October 1995, David Ridsdale pleaded guilty to two indecent assault charges in the ­Ballarat Magistrates Court. He was released on a 12-month bond, with the magistrate linking his offending behaviour to the cruelties of his predatory uncle. It is believed – though ­Ridsdale’s lawyers were unable to confirm it – that ­Ridsdale had already confessed to his assaults, disclosing his offending at the same time he alerted police to the actions of Gerald Ridsdale, before Corey made his police statement.

Gerald Ridsdale, more recently

Bizarrely, it was only last year, weeks after the mental breakdown that saw him spend a week in the Gold Coast Hospital’s mental health unit, that Corey was informed of Ridsdale’s 1995 guilty plea. “As a consequence of me ­ringing the Royal Commission, I had a phone call from an officer with the Sano Task Force [the Victoria Police unit investigating historic and new allegations of child sexual assault],” says Corey. “I told this lady I did actually make a statement in ’94-95, so she rings me back, not 15 minutes later, and she says, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she says, ‘He actually pleaded guilty to two charges back on the fifth of October, 1995’.”

Victoria Police told this magazine that the Ballarat police officers handling the case in 1995 were not officially obliged to inform Corey of Ridsdale’s guilty plea. Today, they say, Victoria Police would be obliged to notify and inform Corey under Victoria’s Victims’ Charter Act 2006.

In the boardroom, Corey shakes his head, confused. “I don’t get it,” he says. “I was gutted, hurt. But I was relieved, too.”

Corey glances down at the boardroom table. There’s Ridsdale’s face again, on a stack of news printouts spread across the table. These news pieces are filled with lines from David ­criticising Cardinal George Pell about accountability, about healing, in the lead-up to and ­during Pell’s historic Rome testimony to the Royal Commission that Ridsdale and a unified team of Ballarat survivors attended in person. “He’s allowed himself to become a protected human being. I do not believe the man has the capacity to take on board any opinion of what’s going on. When you face the truth with dignity you really can achieve so much. Don’t ever understate broken people, pick them up.”

Someone had to speak out. Speaking out has achieved great things for the survivors of ­Ballarat. “But why him?” Corey wonders. “He doesn’t represent me.”

Johnston nods, thinks on this for a moment. “You gotta feel sorry for him and sick for him because of what happened to him and he is a survivor,” she says. “He was offended against, horrifically. You feel for him, absolutely, but there should have been knowledge from him that he himself had offended and that, in standing up and not saying that publicly, he is hurting people, too. It’s about keeping it ­honest. It is about being held accountable. He needed to think about how his behaviour affected the people he hurt. But he seemed so consumed by his own story that he forgot about the people he hurt, he didn’t give a thought at all as to how they might feel when they see him on television over there in Rome.

“He should have declared it, publicly apologised to Corey and showed the contrition that was necessary for Corey to move on, to be able to forgive an offender. But he didn’t. It really is about owning behaviour and being totally open and honest about it. None of that Corey can see.”

Corey nods. “Look, I don’t doubt that he had a shocking childhood,” he says. “But that doesn’t give him permission to pass it on to me.”

He’s deeply appalled by David Ridsdale’s behaviour, but he’s not vengeful. He just wants to speak out, too, tell his story in case there’s someone else out there like him who wants to tell theirs, sentiments supported in earnest by YMCA Australia CEO Ron Mell, who has responded to Corey’s story with an immediate offer of assistance and a call for any other silent YMCA abuse survivors to step forward.

In the boardroom, Corey takes a deep breath. He looks at the clock on the wall. He has to be back at work soon. Life, and all its strange material, waits for him outside that boardroom door.

“How you feeling?” asks Johnston.

“I feel good,” Corey says.

He leans in to the table, still clutching his wife’s hand. “I was so petrified back then,” he says. “But I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I have my days, my real bad days.”

And all at once everything that’s inside spills out. He says he drinks a bit too much. He’s quick-tempered sometimes. He sometimes overcompensates for his nervousness with ­foolish exuberance. He doesn’t always sleep well and some mornings he lies in bed wondering what his life is all about; why he was given this particular path to walk down; why he feels so down, so damn tired and confused, when yesterday at work he was so damn strong and energetic.

But then he gets out of bed because he knows magic, too; he knows the love of his wife and three sons, his own special magic kit, there every single day to help him pull off the toughest trick in the book. Living.