Sea of red hearts recalls victims of sex abuse at St Stanislaus’ College

FOR THE VICTIMS: Wayne and Carole Nielsen travelled from Wollongong for the victim's vigil in Centennial Park on Friday. Each red heart represented one of the 160 victims.

FOR THE VICTIMS: Wayne and Carole Nielsen travelled from Wollongong for the victim's vigil in Centennial Park on Friday. Each red heart represented one of the 160 victims.

ONE minute’s silence marked the beginning of a vigil for victims of historic sexual abuse at St Stanislaus’ College, and with it began a journey of healing.

The vigil on Friday was a chance for victims, their families and the community to come together and give victims the chance to be heard.

Held on neutral ground in Centennial Park, 160-hand made hearts – each representing a victim – was a stark backdrop for the event.

It was organised by the families of victims in response to an official public apology being held at the school on Friday night.

Outraged by the school’s decision to incorporate a liturgy into the apology [which was later revoked] and fears being on school grounds could trigger victims, they opted to hold a separate ceremony.

Carole Nielsen, whose son Tor was the whistle blower on the abuse, said the vigil was a chance for people to come together in solidarity.

As late as Friday afternoon, Mrs Nielsen said she was undecided if she would be able to attend the service at the school.

“I just don’t think I can go. I drove past there, I just don’t know,” Mrs Mielsen said.

“It wasn’t just one assault, it was night after night. I can’t sit in that school and feel comfortable.

“My beautiful little boy went there and his life has been devastated.”

Mrs Nielsen said a media ban imposed on the official school event by the school was “just another form of control.”

That media ban was lifted late Friday afternoon.

Head of College Dr Anne Wenham said in a media statement released at 4pm that some guests had asked for media to be present during the service.

“Positively responding to this feedback whilst maintaining our focus on victims of abuse, media will be welcome to the Apology Service.”

David Shoebridge, Greens MP and justice spokesman, said Friday’s vigil allowed victims to have a sense of community support and hopefully find comfort.

“It’s also a very important statement, the institution no longer controls them.”

Mr Shoebridge – who, along with his staff and Mrs Nielsen spent Thursday making the red hearts which were the backdrop to the event - said they wanted a way that all victims could be remembered.

“Not all the victims could come here today, but they are all remembered,” he said.

Mr Shoebridge also said he plans to continue the fight for a stand alone inquiry into the abuse by the Royal Commission, with plans to raise the matter in parliament when it resumes.

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