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Georgie was 13 and at a church function when she met John. Weeks later, he raped her.​

Warning: This post features explicit details of child sexual abuse that could be triggering for some readers. 

At age 13, Georgie Burg was already an accomplished violinist in a youth orchestra preparing to perform in New Zealand.

After her orchestra finished rehearsing at All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie, Canberra, a group of parishioners put on a morning tea. Unusually, they told the children to help themselves.

Georgie spotted chicken sandwiches – they were practically gourmet – and made a beeline towards them.

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

Video by SBS

As she approached, priest John Aitchison stepped in front of her. Georgie, standing about 4’9″, had to look up to see him: 35 years old, tall and lanky.

“One of the things he said was ‘Oh you’ve got to come and play me a competition piece for me sometime’,” Georgie told Mamamia.

“I wasn’t even looking at him. Because I was so much shorter than him, I was looking around him and my good friend Kate had gotten to the bloody sandwiches and she was stuffing her face and putting them in her pockets, and I’m like ‘Oh my god, the sandwiches’.”

It was a typically 13-year-old reaction. This was 1987. Georgie was a child.

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Image: Supplied.
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Weeks later, after playing one of her competition pieces in the church, serial paedophile Aitchison raped Georgie for the first time.

***

Georgie and her family have partnered with Bravehearts this September 6, White Balloon Day, to vow to continue to protect children from sexual assault.

Georgie said her abuse, and the abuse of so many others, could have been avoided if people spoke up when they noticed something was not right.

"What I can do is try and build awareness in the community about keeping our eyes open," she said.

“There are so many people who have come to me and said ‘Oh my mum was saying she knew of somebody and they were creepy and this is what they did’, and my question is always ‘Okay well did they report it? Have you reported what they told you?’ and the response is always “Oh no no no no, it’s not like that’.

“My feeling is if you're gossiping about child abuse, you are being complicit in it. If you see something, hear something, if something isn’t right - even if it's 20 years later, 30 years later, 40 years later - the response needs to be ‘Right, who can I report this to in case there’s another survivor that this can help."

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Georgie aged 6, in 1979. Image supplied.
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Georgie acknowledged child abuse is an awkward, uncomfortable topic, but that's even more reason to speak up about it.

“If you know a child is being abused do you want to be a friend or an adult who finds out and then live with it for the rest of their lives, knowing they could’ve done something about it and didn’t?" she asked.

"Child abuse is not easy and it’s not convenient. You speak out when you hear about it, regardless of how easy it is for you to do it. That is what being brave is about."

**

In January 1994, Georgie's mother moved from the Anglican Church to the Catholic Church.

Reluctantly, Georgie met with a Catholic bishop.

"He asked me about a family member that had abused me and I said ‘yes’, and then he said ‘Has anyone else hurt you?’ and I said, ‘You know John Aitchison’.

"And this bishop, I swear - I will never forget it or forgive it as long as I live - his personality switched, it was like turning on a lamp. He went for me verbally - it was ‘How dare you make these accusations, you could ruin a man’s life with this’, ‘You don’t know what you’re saying’. For a good ten minutes it was just like bullets.

"The incredible thing about it, looking back, is I didn’t actually say what he did, all I had time to say was ‘You know John Aitchison’. Now, John Aitchison was Anglican. This was a Catholic bishop. Why and how he knew about Aitchison, I don’t know, but he knew."

Georgie was preparing to move to Melbourne to take up a big violin scholarship, but the bishop said he would tell her mother. Georgie was relieved.

"The next memory I have is my bedroom was sort of set away from the living room, and I could hear this bishop's voice and mum's voice talking in a low level in the living room. I remember thinking ‘oh thank god, mum’s going to help me and everything’s going to be okay’.

"And all of a sudden the bishops voiced stopped, I heard very fast footsteps and mum was standing outside."

Georgie's mother was angry, calling her horrible names: 'How dare you say things like this', she yelled.

"I actually slept on the floor that night, because I didn’t think I deserved to sleep on my bed," Georgie said.

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The next day Georgie left for Melbourne.

"I’d been really excited about moving to Melbourne but I pretty much had a breakdown. There were all these hopes for me in Melbourne, it was going to be the time that I broke into the international circuit, I had the really big concertos down pat, I was learning from one of the eminent violinists in the country with connections to the US and the UK and Singapore.

"And it all just fell apart. I just couldn’t get the words of the bishop out of my head, and mum’s words out of my head. The bishop was the first person that I told - and I didn’t even really tell him, I said one sentence - and I was 20."

**

Georgie met Phil at the end of 1995, after dropping out of her course and begging her mother to let her come back home to Canberra.

"I’m really, really glad I did because I was really on the way out," Georgie said.

"I never realised I could do anything other than play the violin. I didn’t know I could be a secretary, it just never occurred to me I had anything to offer beyond playing the violin. So when the music went from under me, there really wasn’t anything left in life that was appealing. I was busy plotting some nasty things to do to myself, and then Phil came along."

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Georgie and Phil. Image: Supplied.

Georgie was reluctant to say Phil 'saved her life' - that's hyperbole, she said - but "it's a bloody good thing" he came into her life.

"He’s just soft and gentle and so steady. I didn’t expect to fall in love with him because he really wasn’t my type - liked Guns’n’Roses, rode a sports motorbike, country boy, likes Akubras. Every stereotype of an Aussie country bloke. But we fell in love and got married underneath a lighthouse on the Great Ocean Road in the middle of a thunderstorm in 1998.

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"I fell pregnant three months later, and I sort of fell on my feet. It hasn’t been easy and I spent 25 years of my life being silent.”

**

In 2014, Georgie's second child, her eldest daughter Mia, turned 13.

During that year, Mia came out as gay, and it was this decision that compelled Georgie to come forward after 25 years of silence.

"When Mia came forward about being LGBT, it took her some time to take that step and what was interesting to me is she knew we were a family where she was safe with and it still took her time to get there," Georgie explained.

"So when she did I found myself thinking ‘Gee, that’s serious bravery there’ because even though she knew it was safe, clearly to her she was unsure and wobbly. She had clearly been kind of tortured about it before she did that, and with the relief on her face when she told me, I found myself thinking about her bravery. I remember thinking 'Gee, that’s brave, if she can do it why can’t I?'"

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Mia in 2018. Image: Supplied.

Georgie said she still held onto a bit of personal blame for Aitchison's abuse, but seeing Mia at that age helped her accept it wasn't her fault.

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"When I was looking at Mia, I just found myself thinking 'She’s so teeny, so little'. If someone like John got at her, she wouldn’t have a hope in hell of getting out. It was like my first step to forgiving myself as well, and going ‘Well if that’s what Mia looks like and she’s my daughter, well I must’ve looked like Mia.'"

**

It took three years and eight months for Georgie's case to make it to trial.

After a two week trial, in which she testified for two full days, a Supreme Court jury found Aitchison guilty of seven acts of indecency and five counts of rape against Georgie.

He had previously been convicted of other offences involving children in the ACT, Victoria, New South Wales and the United Kingdom, and he served roughly two years at the Junee Correctional Centre in the late 1990s, the ABC reported.

But still, churches employed him.

In 1989 Aitchison was promoted to rector of St Matthias’ Church, Bombala.

Two years later, he was charged with indecent assault on a 12-year-old boy in 1987. But that same year, 1991, he received a scholarship to study his PhD at Cambridge University. While in England, he allegedly assaulted two young sisters.

In 1992, the NSW District Court sentenced him to a three year good behaviour bond for assaulting the 12-year-old boy.

In 1996, he was convicted of two indecent assault offences and sentenced to three years' prison with an 18 month minimum sentence. An indictment for additional assaults on two children are stayed - meaning further legal process in a trial or other legal proceeding were halted.

In December 1996 Aitchison pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse with a boy under the age of 16.

As reported by The Guardian, while on trial for abusing Georgie, Aitchison was being promoted as part of a "child friendly" event at Sydney's Pitt Street Uniting church.

**

Georgie posts survivors' Messages to Australia from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on social media.

There are 1054 individual messages, but Georgie has seen a couple of themes.

The first is the importance of believing children. So many messages state the survivor wished they were believed, and they were so grateful that they were being listened to and believed by the Commissioners.

Creating a society where children are believed, listened to and taken seriously will then inform the second theme seen in the messages:

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"We see survivors saying ‘I feel so much better now that I’ve spoken out, I feel like a weight has been taken off. I feel like I’m finally free’, over and over and over again. That tells us something. Sexual assault is not meant to be kept quiet. Emotionally, we’re not meant to keep a secret like that. It’s too much. It’s too heavy.

"Keeping silent takes an enormous amount of bravery as well. I don’t want to take that away from survivors who can’t talk - I get it, I was that way for 25 years."

By coming forward, throughout Aitchison's trial, Georgie gave up her identity.

But she has her name now.

"I’m not [survivor] 577. I’m not ‘a woman aged 45’ in those court articles, or a set of initials in the Royal Commission transcripts. I've got my name and people don’t realise how incredibly wonderful it is to have your own name. It isn’t about defining yourself as a sexual abuse survivor, it’s about defining yourself as a person with an identity. It’s the most incredible feeling."

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Georgie in 2019. Image: Supplied.

Coming forward with her identity, partnering with Bravehearts, releasing her victim impact statement (which you can read in full on Mamamia here) is how Georgie is giving other survivors the opportunity to use their voices.

"All I want to do is be a microphone for them, because the more of us there are the more we can hopefully change things like this."

**

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Bravehearts’ White Balloon Day is Australia’s largest and longest running campaign dedicated to preventing child sexual assault.

Held annually during National Child Protection Week, on the first Friday of September, White Balloon Day unites communities to make a commitment to protecting kids.

As part of the day, Georgie and her family are calling on community members to ensure the education, empowerment and protection of children from undergoing a similar trauma by Making the Pledge.

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Georgie, Phil, son Rory and daughter Mia are ambassadors for Bracehearts. Image: Supplied.

Making the Pledge is simple yet crucially important as the Federal Government can determine the number of Australians who are committed to protecting youth against child sexual assault.

"I refuse to believe that society, that ordinary people in society don’t have the capacity to be brave. If I can do what I’ve done, and give up everything I love to do it, then the very least society can do in return is put their hand up and say ‘Yes, it’s my job to protect kids and yes I’m going to be active about this'," Georgie said.

"It’s not okay what happened to me. We have to stand up."

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts here. 

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from the Child Abuse Protection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting their website. You can also call the 24- hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478). 

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