'Andrew Bolt should spend a day in my shoes'
I am 577. That's the number they gave me at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
As a survivor of child sex abuse, I've lived through a lot and it takes a bit to shock me.
But when I read Andrew Bolt's article on Monday ("How many will we condemn?"), I certainly was.
Mr Bolt wrote about men being jailed for child rape, only to be freed on appeal, and he questioned the justice system for its approach to these crimes.
Everyone would agree innocent people should not be jailed, no matter the crime. But while making their cases, Andrew Bolt demonstrated a dangerous lack of understanding for what it means to be a victim.
And this lack of understanding could prevent more victims coming forward. We can't go back to a time when they kept their secrets to themselves.
Mr Bolt wrote "Is it now a sin to doubt anyone claiming to be a victim?" And he highlighted - as he has done many times before - the length of time it takes most victims to come forward. Often decades.
So let me give him an understanding of what it's like.
When I was 13 years old, a priest called John Philip Aitchison told me he could materialise my pet dog Lilly, who had only recently died. I felt responsible for her death, so I believed him. He knew it was the thing I wanted more than anything.
He used my own guilt to rape me. He raped me repeatedly for two years, until he was moved to another parish where he raped another child.
It took me 25 years to report his crimes to police, and I am one of a tiny percentage of clergy abuse survivors to put my rapist in jail.
Aitchison was sentenced to nine years, with five non-parole, in 2018.
And it's important to remember paedophiles don't just rape boys. Or girls. They rape children. They use the opportunities they're given by the institutions, and they quietly slip by the attention of parents who believe it could never happen to their children.
But any thoughts Mr Bolt has of me waking up one day, telling a quick story to a couple of policemen, followed by a speedy trial where I was believed by everyone and treated with unwavering compassion, to then watch Aitchison walk to jail, are wrong.
My first police interview lasted 12 hours. I didn't eat or drink, and they replaced one recording tape after another until it turned dark outside and my voice stopped working.
It then took a year to charge Aitchison, as the process worked its way through seemingly endless levels of the justice system.
At the trial, I sat in a remote witness room to testify. It took two days, and the process is designed to break the victim.
And in that room, it's not uncommon for witnesses to suffer vomiting and nosebleeds from the trauma. For me, at the end, it felt like I'd just been pulled from a car crash.
And then, almost four years after coming forward, he was finally found guilty and then sentenced five months later.
During that time, I lost my job and my mother took her own life, and what was done to me was relived and retold again and again.
The thought of anyone going through this for any other reason than to see justice is unimaginable.
Two years later, I still remember every detail of that trial and sentencing.
I worry for the victims who are yet to come forward. Will they be accused of leaving it too long, or will they have their courage minimised by an Andrew Bolt?
Highlighting delays in reporting, as if that were a sinister thing, could make victims like me feel ashamed for not coming forward sooner, or even deter them.
Andrew Bolt has cherrypicked cases from crimes that involve an estimated 60,000 victims. And we should always remember what we're dealing with: men who don't want to be caught, and institutions that want to keep secrets.
When you live through the experiences I have, the voice of your attacker lives with you, and being a survivor is not a hobby or a lifestyle choice.
The other survivors I've met are wise and gentle people. They live in country farmhouses and anonymous places. A tiny percentage receive justice but most never will.
I live where I can open my window and see only mountains and sky and black cockatoos flying, and very few people. This is the only way I feel safe.
I urge Andrew Bolt to speak with a few of us, before he risks damaging us again. This is how we make things better.
No innocent person should be jailed, but all Andrew Bolt has done with his article is warn victims they should listen to that little voice inside them.
The one that tells them to stay quiet.
Georgie Burg is a survivor of child sex abuse
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Andrew Bolt should spend a day in my shoes