Michele East, 55, Sunbury, Victoria
As I started to fall asleep, my partner Paul, then 29, thrashed around in the bed next to me. He uttered something inaudible, then let out a whimper.
‘Don’t worry, it’s just a bad dream,’ I whispered to him.
Paul often experienced night terrors. We’d met when I started working at a pub where he was the manager.
I was attracted to his easygoing manner and cheeky smile, and we quickly fell for each other. But as I got to know Paul, I realised there was another side to him.
Was there something he wasn’t telling me?
‘You had another nightmare last night,’ I said to him the next morning.
That’s when the truth came out. ‘I was abused as a child,’ Paul confessed. ‘That’s what my nightmares are about.’
My heart broke as Paul said he’d been sexually abused at the age of 12 by a Catholic priest named Gerald Ridsdale.
I was shocked. I’d had no idea at all.
Paul went on to explain that he’d only found the courage to report it to the police in 1993, three years before we’d met. He’d seen in the news that Ridsdale had been convicted of sexually abusing other boys.
‘That’s when I knew I wasn’t alone,’ Paul said. It gave him strength.
Ridsdale was jailed for three months for the crimes, but a year later he was back in court, charged with sexually abusing 20 boys and one girl. He was jailed for a further 18 years.
Since then, Paul had tried to bury the bad memories.
‘Thank you for telling me,’ I said, holding my man close. The fact he trusted me made our bond a lot stronger.
As the years passed, our relationship experienced some difficult times. Instead of opening up, Paul bottled up his feelings.
Then in 2006, 10 more victims came forward to say they’d been abused by Ridsdale between 1970 and 1987. He’d been terrorising children for decades.
While still in prison, Ridsdale appeared in court again where he was later sentenced to 13 more years of imprisonment, to run concurrently with his previous sentence. He is expected to die in jail.
Seeing his abuser’s face all over the news was a trigger for Paul. He turned to alcohol for comfort.
‘You need to talk to me,’ I pleaded with him. I still loved Paul deeply and was determined to stand by him.
Then in 2014 something happened which forced a turning point. Paul was out driving when the trailer from an oncoming truck came off and careered into his vehicle.
Paul suffered extensive damage to his left knee and had to be cut from the car. He spent the next six weeks in hospital, with me at his side.
As well as physical rehabilitation, Paul was referred to a psychiatrist, where his feelings about his past came pouring out.
He was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘Since I met Ridsdale, I feel like my life has been a never-ending nightmare,’ he said, finally opening up.
He explained he’d been introduced to Ridsdale through a friend of his mum’s.
Soon after, when they all went on a camping trip together, Ridsdale got Paul alone and touched him inappropriately. He then forced Paul to watch while he touched himself, making Paul promise to keep it secret.
Completely unaware, Paul’s family considered Ridsdale a friend. He would visit their home, and began regularly picking up Paul from school and sexually abusing him.
By 1982, Paul was playing up at school and so was sent to live with Ridsdale at his presbytery at Mortlake, Vic.
While living there, Paul was abused almost every day for six months.
Eventually, Paul managed to move away. He kept the abuse secret for almost 10 years until one of Ridsdale’s other victims came forward.
Thinking of Paul subjected to daily torture as a child made me feel so helpless.
But just as he was beginning to work out his issues, a Royal Commission enquiry into institutional responses to child sex abuse was also taking place here in Australia.
In May 2015, Ridsdale was called to give evidence from prison via video link.
We began watching from home, but it felt wrong. So, on the trail of a predator, we made the trip to Ballarat, Vic, so Paul could listen in person to what Ridsdale had done.
In December last year, Paul gave his own statement detailing what the priest had put him through.
Not long after, the Royal Commission went to Rome where Catholic Cardinal George Pell gave evidence.
Paul and I flew to Rome to hear what Pell had to say.
Just before we left, Paul and I got matching tattoos of a black and blue ribbon which reads ‘no more silence’.
As the Royal Commission continues, it’s our hope it will help save kids from abuse.
The past 19 years haven’t been easy, but after all Paul and I have been through, we’re stronger than ever.
Originally published in issue 25 of that's life! magazine - June 23 2016
If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, MensLine Australia on1300 78 99 78 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800