Published: 29 April 2020
Author: Penny Savidis

Ridsdale back in court and prompting new wave of trauma

Notorious child sex offender Gerald Ridsdale is back before the Courts.

Ridsdale has already been convicted for numerous child sex offences involving 69 victims, and has served 26 years in prison. He has been incarcerated since 1994, and is due for release in 2028, but eligible for parole in 2022.

He featured in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, giving evidence at one of the public hearings in Ballarat about his offending by videolink from prison over two days in May 2015. (The Age: I was abused as a child: disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale gives evidence at sex abuse royal commission in Ballarat)

In a plea hearing at the County Court of Victoria on Monday, 85-year old Ridsdale pleaded guilty to further charges involving four abuse survivors who were abused in the 1970s in western Victoria, when Ridsdale was a priest in the area. However, Ridsdale’s defence lawyer Tim Marsh argued that he should not receive further time in jail. (The CourierGerald Ridsdale pleads guilty to more child sexual abuse charges)

Prosecutor Andrew Moore disagreed, submitting that if there was no extension to the non-parole period, there would be no meaningful and effective adverse consequence whatsoever in the sentence.

Mr Marsh argued that Ridsdale’s connection to the Church allowed him to offend at the scale he did. He stated:

"Had Mr Ridsdale been in some other position of authority that allowed him to offend in the way he did, it is unlikely he would have ended up with (almost) 70 victims."

"There is something unique about the fact he had the apparatus of the Catholic Church behind him that led to this predicament.

"He bears and takes individual responsibility. But had he been a man with the same characteristics in any other walk of life, it is highly unlikely the offending would have carried on for the length of time it did."

A number of impact statements were tendered in Court, including from two brothers who survived Ridsdale’s abuse as well as the statements of their elderly parents. Ridsdale will be sentenced on 14 May 2020.

When alleged and convicted offenders appear before the courts, there are often untold consequences.

A new wave of trauma

Many of our clients report a sense of vindication when the wheels of justice catch up with offenders, and they are jailed for their crimes. However, such trials can also trigger feelings of trauma for abuse survivors – not just among those who allege abuse by the person on trial, but also among other survivors of similar abuse

The Royal Commission was a watershed in the history of institutional child abuse in Australia. Since the Commission, there have been increased criminal prosecutions and convictions of child sex offenders, as well as an increase in civil litigation against offenders and the institutions that often actively protected them, or turned a negligent blind eye.

While the increased focus on child abuse is undoubtedly positive, we should acknowledge that hearing about such abuse in the media is often triggering for abuse survivors. That said, it is often the reporting of such abuse that gives courage to other abuse survivors to come forward and report their abuse. As one of the abuse survivors in Ridsdale’s plea hearing stated in his victim impact statement, "I hope more people have the courage to report so they can find some sort of peace."

Many of our clients over the years have come forward about their abuse after hearing of the bravery of others, and knowing they are not alone. We encourage all abuse survivors, not only those abuse by high profile and notorious offenders, to come forward, to achieve justice and as much closure as is possible.

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