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George Pell Defenders Are A 'Third Layer Of Power' That Abuse Survivors Face

Politicians and other powerful people defending convicted paedophile George Pell are a "third layer of power" survivors of child sex abuse have to contend with, says one expert.

Within hours of the Victoria Court of Appeal upholding Pell's conviction 2-1, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt said he was "appalled" by the decision, and did not accept the findings of the court.

It has echoes of the powerful roll call of people who came out in defence of Pell after the suppression order on his conviction was lifted, which included Bolt, his News Corp colleague Miranda Devine, and former Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard. The latter wrote a character references for Pell declaring that "none of these matters alter my opinion of the cardinal."

george pell john howard
Former Prime Minister John Howard wrote a character reference for George Pell, whom he has known for 30 years. Photo: AAP.

Seeing powerful voices defend a convicted abuser can be traumatising for survivors of child sex abuse, said Tarja Marlone of the Blue Knot Foundation, a support service for adult survivors.

"It's really triggering for them, because the essence of child sex abuse is around power and power imbalance," Marlone told 10 daily.

"Particularly when abuse happens in institutions, there's levels of power off the individual -- there's the perpetrator, but then also the institution that supports the perpetrator.

"And now what we're seeing is a level above that. And that's people in politics and other powerful positions being the third layer of power that the survivor has to battle against to have their story heard and to have them be believed."

Child sex abuse survivor Phil Nagle said not being believed was "a very difficult thing to deal with", in addition to the abuse itself.

"That's why so many of us survivors have stayed quiet for so long," he told Studio 10.

Marlone added: "We've gone through the legal process, and I think that really should be enough."

On Tuesday, the disgraced cardinal's appeal was dismissed by the Victorian Court of Appeal 2-1, meaning his conviction of sexually abusing two choirboys in the 1990s will be upheld and he will remain in prison.

One of the choirboys, known only as Witness J, said in a victim impact statement that he felt compelled to come forward after he attended the funeral for the other choirboy. 

"I gave a statement to the police because I was thinking of him and his family," Witness J said.

"I felt I should say what I saw and what happened to me. I had experienced something terrible as a child, something that marked my life. I wanted at least some good to come of it."

Supporters of abuse victims are seen outside the Supreme Court of Victoria, Melbourne, Wednesday, August 21, 2019. Photo: AAP.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said she and Justice Chris Maxwell found Witness J to come across as "someone who was telling the truth", without seeking to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution.

They rejected all 13 of the "obstacles" to Pell committing the crime put forward by his legal team, including the defence that his robes were too heavy to be pulled aside and commit the violent act.

In dissenting, Justice Mark Weinberg said he believed Pell should have been acquitted, and there was "significant possibility" he may not have committed the offences.

As the decision was not unanimous, it leaves a window for Pell's many powerful defenders to openly question the Justices' decision. Pell, who maintains his innocence, is also considering whether to appeal to the High Court.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the courts had "done their job [and] must be respected", indicating that Pell may be stripped of his Order of Australia honours.

Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, August 21, 2019. Photo: AAP.

Marlone told 10 daily it was important for survivors of child sex abuse to take care during this time, surround themselves with loved ones and supporters, and to avoid media if necessary.

"The other message to is that we know how we can speak up about this," she said.

"There's no pressure on people to speak up -- if they're not ready, that's fine," she added, noting people in their 70s who disclosed child sex abuse for the first time during the Royal Commission.

"But there is a power in sharing the story with someone they trust. And it doesn't mean they have to go through a court case like this, but just having people understand what happened to them, how it impacted them, and what they need to move on and heal some of those wounds."

For support with issues raised in this story, you can call the Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380, Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au