Survivors of sexual abuse by some members of the Catholic clergy in Ballarat say the region’s suicide rate is “through the roof”, in part because of the area’s toxic legacy of child molestation.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse will move to the regional Victorian city for hearings tomorrow.
Ballarat was one of the most horrific sites of abuse and it was revealed that in 1971 all the male teachers and the chaplain at the St Alipius primary school were molesting children.
One of Australia’s most notorious paedophiles, Father Gerald Ridsdale, will give live evidence to the commission via video link from prison, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for the rape and abuse of children, some of them as young as four.
Peter Blenkiron is one of the prominent campaigners for justice and redress for victims of abuse by the Catholic Church clergy.
He said suicide was an epidemic in the Ballarat region.
"The suicide rate in Ballarat is through the roof, not just from clergy abuse but because it's socially acceptable to take your own life if you get to a tough spot in life," he said.
"Most people I know know at least half a dozen people who have committed suicide, let alone the premature deaths where people have drunk themselves to death.
"It is not a ripple effect, it's an atomic bomb that's gone off in Ballarat.
"Ballarat has got this hidden trauma and landscape of death about it. I believe the suicide rate is higher than the road toll and we don't hear about it. We have to stop that."
The ABC's Lateline was granted access to a Ballarat support group for victims of sexual and physical abuse.
While not all were victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, most of the middle-aged men there were.
One member of the group, named Tim, said knowing he was not alone in his experiences saved his life.
"If this group wasn't here I'd be out on my lonesome again and probably would be contemplating suicide again - and it's not a good place to be," he said.
Tim returned to Ballarat six years ago and was shocked at the effect the abuse had on the community.