Dr Dave McDonald
The University of Melbourne
Since the 1980s, the breadth and scale of institutional child sexual abuse has become increasingly apparent. While the impact of this has been felt at both international and national levels, in some places it has also had a particularly indelible effect at the local level. In Australia, one of the sites most dramatically affected by this has been the storied town of Ballarat. It has been transformed by institutional child sexual abuse.Throughout 2015 and 2016, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse conducted a series of public hearings as part of its case study into the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat. As 17 men gave evidence of their abuse at the hands of diocesan clergy, colourful ribbons began appearing on fences throughout the town. Becoming known as Loud Fence, it is a movement that has grown out of the town to have national and at times international significance as a visual inscription of the institutional abuse of children, particularly sexual abuse by clergy. In this paper, I explore Loud Fence as community-initiated practice of acknowledgment in the aftermath of abuse. Akin to a ‘difficult heritage’, I argue that institutional child sexual abuse throughout the Diocese of Ballarat is mediated through Loud Fence in such a way to reaffirm the town’s foundational story of uprising. While formal mechanisms of acknowledgement in the form of public inquiries, redress and apologies have received significant scholarly attention, this paper explores Loud Fence as an informal, community-driven and locally oriented practice that acknowledges histories of abuse, locates responsibility and, in so doing, can be read as a new iteration in a broader narrative the town tells of itself.
Dave McDonald is a Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. His research examines quasi-legal practices of justice, particularly in the context of institutional child sexual abuse.