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"The girl in this photo is 14. She has been raped. She has no words left."

This article contains mentions of rape and sexual assault and may be triggering to some readers. 

When Georgie Burg was 13, she met Father John Aitchison. Over two years, he would rape her five times – in the church and in her own bedroom.

In 2018, he was sentenced to nine years in prison (with a five year non-parole period) for these crimes.

On 13th August 2018, Georgie stood in the ACT Supreme Court at his sentencing, and read her Victim Impact Statement. These are her words.
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I’ve thought a lot about what I’d like to say if I saw today.

Today is as large as the day I married my husband, the days our children were born and potentially, the day I met John Aitchison, who detonated above my family with a force as great as an atomic bomb.

I have always been determined not to live my life as a victim, but as someone who will break the awful patterns of child sexual abuse. Who will always try to love, although I don’t know how to accept that I am loved in return – a fact which weighs heavily on my husband and children.

You see, when I think about who I am, what I want from my life and the difference I want to leave behind me – I can’t think of a single thing that makes me who I am.

As a girl, that voice was my violin, and my friends were my animals. It is well and good to say that my career was taken from me, and how sad that is. But to characterise it doesn’t respect the depth of what being a violinist meant to me. It wasn’t a hobby. I was a child who lived and breathed music.

It was a comfort, a smokescreen, a disguise and an exposure of the very gifted girl I was. It was my own language spoken with my voice. My interpretation of how I saw the world around me – the way society saw me, heard me, listened to me and celebrated who I was.

John Aitchison took away my music and all the things that gave me comfort, security and happiness.

I don’t remember friends, teachers or any happiness from my teenage years. There is nothing left of that time of my life, because of this former priest, Father John Aitchison. My identity as a girl, my voice as a musician, my ability to forgive myself – he took it all. He rewrote who I was meant to be, he manipulated the weaknesses in my temperament and he amputated my sense of safety. He was effortlessly careless, casual, commanding, authoritarian and coolly arrogant. And more.

I stand before you today and say that measurement of the damage of this has no language to describe it.

I’ve watched my peers, my own children and their friends at the age I was then. I remember I was proud I’d just learned to French braid my hair, I thought wearing odd socks was an act of serious rebellion. And then my safe spaces just disappeared.

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Watch Georgie Burg and her family on Insight. Post continues after video. 

Video by SBS Insight

Instead, my own bedroom was somewhere I was raped. Those Canberra blossom trees aren’t beautiful. The smell of summer wattle and water from the pool I used to love became something awful that I ran away from. And on every corner, a church.

My shame and self hatred is compounded because I watch my kids and their friends with no small amount of envy. When you become a parent, it’s things like this that gnaw away at you. Childhood should be an adventure with people who love you, where you learn stuff about yourself with limited consequences. Safety is assumed, trust is taken for granted and your body is one more thing to be proud of.

My experience was different. It was so different. John Aitchison had already lived his childhood. It wasn’t enough somehow, so he took mine too. The loss of that can’t be measured. It can’t be given back. To be raped inside a church. There are no words for the terror I felt.

My primary thought about being a young teenager is why? What did I do to deserve what happened to me? It must have been something I did. It must have been my fault. In the absence of any other explanation, I’m less than human. I’m a set of initials in a court transcript. I’m a freakish kind of refugee.

There are so many layers of cruelty that this man chose to inflict that has left me still frightened of him. And I am ashamed of the level of influence he has.
I would like to kiss my husband without remembering the messed up layers that this priest left behind him. I would like to look at my two daughters and my son without it being a link to a time that the only memories I have is that of a paedophile priest who should never have been ordained.

I have been changed physically by Aitchison’s assaults on me. These issues were not caused by natural causes. They were caused instead by being raped at an age that my body was not ready for. In being unable to fight Aitchison off, I knew how badly my own body was letting me down. I had lost consent over myself in a way I hated – there was no where I could turn that hatred to, except into myself.

This issue of consent has been an enormous presence in my life, with sharp and unrelenting focus because of the role John Aitchison played in my life.
I will never consent. My answer is no. My answer is no to internal examinations and ultrasounds. To routine breast examinations and endoscopies. I don’t consent. I am beyond my limits of endurance. This is the reality that I live with and I can guarantee to you that no sentence will ever come close to addressing my anger and humiliating fury about it.

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Because this is one of the intersections where Aitchison directly impacts my wonderful husband and our three children who did nothing to deserve this particular fallout. I am angry for them. I am so, so angry on their behalf.

There are simple things that make life richer that I am not able to enjoy. Friendship is an example. John Aitchison was my friend. When he asked me about my life, I was so pathetically grateful that someone was interested that I answered his questions and felt indebted to him for asking in the first place.

I ignored myself. I didn’t trust myself. It was stupid. No intelligent person should have believed what I believed. I was a fool – worse than foolish. As time went on and I realised the huge mistake I’d made, I couldn’t find the door to let myself out.

I won’t allow it to happen again. I see myself as dangerous to society because my judgement is flawed and unreliable. I can’t make friends when I don’t know who I am, can’t trust who I might be and I hate who I was and the man that made me that way.

Aitchison was an atomic bomb. This is one of the expanding shock waves – the dynamic pressurised wind systems that have tumbled and torn apart my life. These are the processes that vaporised my potential.

The big life events that mark our lives was simply absent from mine, because of the vacuum and blast winds of the former priest in this room.

Ask my husband how he felt knowing this. Ask him how he feels about being the man who gets to pick up the pieces of the mess Aitchison left behind. Ask him how it feels to wake me up from this nightmare that never really ends, how it feels to watch it all and not be able to fix it. Ask yourself how he felt seeing me come outside after giving testimony for two days. 

This is the fallout from child rape that ripples through families. It settles on all you know like smoke.

As long as this stays a secret that I am obligated to keep and feel ashamed about, the more you, your church, your society will make sure this happens again.

Where were my teachers, my friends, the mothers of my friends? I want to know why I meant so little to a society I am meant to be a part of.

I would like to ask – when will it stop? The Royal Commission found there are 60,000 people like me, survivors of institutional abuse. I see my family in them, and in other children tortured, raped and abused. The collateral damage of adults who should know better and have never cared about us.

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Not as children. Not as adults.

Why aren’t we enough? When will our numbers be enough?

***

I look out of the window in the middle of the night because there’s a nightmare and see a priest standing under a streetlamp below, who is looking up at me and smiling. It’s the inability to recognise my own husband when I wake up.

This is the memory of rape, and things done to me in a back bedroom which I can’t tell anyone. It’s the coldness in a Catholic bishop’s eyes when I told him what John had done, and the way my crying sounded when I read letters about me for the first time, between the then-archbishop and then-father John Aitchison, written in 1989.

I say with complete certainty – That atomic explosion called John Philip Aitchison landed in the middle of my biological family, who had already been through more suffering than any family deserves. So I want to say for the first and last time in my life – how dare you, John Aitchison. Thanks to you, that family simply no longer exists. No part of it is left. How dare you.

I have been tested. I have been held accountable. I have paid a high price for protecting those I loved. I have been forced to name what was done to me.

We are told as children that if you are in trouble, get help. Tell someone you trust. Someone will help you. Someone will listen. Someone will come.

But no one came. I wasn’t concentrating on sleepovers and friends and what subjects I liked at school. I was focused on survival. There wasn’t room for anything else.

No one got me from the prison that my music had become. It wasn’t a comfort anymore. It was a reminder. It was suffocating me. No one led me through that smoke, helped me to a door so I could breathe better, or gave me a rope to hang onto.

Father John Aitchison built that prison. He held the keys to that door. In the past 30 years he enclosed me brick by brick, with endless corridors and cells where I have lived. Part of the awfulness is that I recognise that after a while, I have laid bricks myself – I hated myself so completely that it’s all I knew how to do.

I think I’ve lived there long enough. Please don’t ask me to stay. I can’t do it anymore. Endurance has a use by date – it must be today.

For all of this – all the desperation, loss, suffering and pain – what brings me back each time is the face of a little girl looking steadily at the camera in her first grade photograph.

georgie burg
Georgie aged 6, in 1979. Image supplied.
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She has wide grey eyes and a gap between her front teeth. Then, older at 14, she sits hunched over her violin, unsmiling, sombre. She has been raped. She has no words left.

I can’t tell you what she says to me because she isn’t loud or confident. Maybe it’s just the wind, blowing through a shattered door – always cold – without a headstone or flowers to mark her death.

I think she was hopeful for her life once. She deserved happiness, and love and an identity. She deserved her dignity, her boundaries and especially to consent to her own life, lived the way she wanted.

I believe that if she was here, she’d tell you that the church was wrong, your society was wrong – she’s earned your respect.

It’s time for me to say for her – I will not be silent anymore.

She was not a thing to be used.

She was a person.

I am a person.

This statement will mark that girl who lost the potential of her life at the hands of John Phillip Aitchison.

I was that child. She was so many wonderful things.

I am proud of her.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

If you need any information or support relating to child sexual assault you can contact Bravehearts on  1800 272 831.

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