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Giorgio's story

Giorgio’s family migrated from Italy to Australia in the 1950s when he was about four years old. The marriage was unhappy and violent, and when his war-traumatised parents divorced, Giorgio and his siblings were divided up between them. He stayed in Adelaide with his mother until she got a new partner.

‘She didn’t want the kids around with the boyfriend’ so, at the age of six, Giorgio and his little sister were sent to a Catholic orphanage. They had to suck soap until it dissolved, as penance, and were often beaten with canes.

Giorgio wept as he described children being beaten, or jumping out of windows in their underwear and breaking their arms or legs. ‘It was hell. They were awful, awful people.’ Did he ever go back as an adult? ‘If I went back there, I’d burn it down.’

When Giorgio got up in the night to check that his sister was safe, the nuns would catch him and beat him.

Two nuns in particular took a dislike to him. One day they marched Giorgio to the bathroom where they ran the boiling hot tap and made him stand in it while they scrubbed him. ‘Dirty gypsy’, they called him as they scrubbed his genitals. ‘They were adamant that I was disgusting. That’s why they were hell-bent on scrubbing me.’

Giorgio doesn’t know how long it went on for, ‘but it seemed to be hours, hot cold, hot cold. I think I shat myself, I think I vomited. They beat me with the brushes and scrubbed me’. Giorgio thinks he must have passed out because the next thing he remembers was being in bed with a fever.

Being abused by the nuns that day, one wearing a scapular, was the first time he experienced dissociation. ‘I stared at that scapular. And it had letters on it that I didn’t understand for years and years.’ The letters spelled out ‘Polska’. ‘She was Polish, she was superior to me because I was a dirty gypsy. But staring at the scapular and the hot sweaty flesh made me go somewhere else.’

Not long afterwards Giorgio’s mother sent him to a Methodist orphanage. Then, when he was 12, he went to live with his mother, her boyfriend and his siblings in Sydney.

Giorgio remembers being quite violent and, from his early teens, always carrying a knife for protection. Once, he was locked in a flat by a sexual predator for three days. ‘I couldn’t leave till he got what he wanted. I ended up beating him. And enjoying it.’

But what the man told Giorgio still haunts him. ‘He told me that predators can smell us. They have an instinct about us. They know who we are by the way we walk or the way we talk … we give off something. We’ve got “V” tattooed on our foreheads.’

At high school Giorgio discovered drugs and used them for the next 20 years. He embarked on a life of high-risk behaviour, such as stealing cars, but he knew ‘something was gone, something was missing’. He had honed his skill at dissociation to the point where he could be a million miles away in any situation.

‘No one could get me.’ It was as though Giorgio had found the adult version of a story he told the kids in the children’s homes about a magic treehouse, where no one could get them.

Giorgio first disclosed the abuse during hypnosis sessions with a psychiatrist, who knew there was something he was suppressing. ‘I wailed and howled like a wounded animal. I’d been sitting on it for 35 years.’ He’s tried ‘all stripes’ of counselling but hypnosis was by far the most effective.

The rest of Giorgio’s life has been spent ‘hovering between victim and survivor’. He has nightmares every night, as well as a visceral reaction to seeing nuns and smelling soap. He also has major trust issues, which makes relationships hard to sustain.

Giorgio isn’t interested in getting a large financial settlement as compensation. ‘I want 20 cents a week till the day I die from those fuckers. ‘Cause I will know that 20 cents a week means they’re going to live with it as long as I’ve had to live with it … The Catholics, Church of England, Scouts ... and other places, all have these predators. These predators think they have a right.’

The man who sexually abused Giorgio in his flat told him that he had a right as well. That’s what made Giorgio angry to the point of violence. ‘Where did they get the right? Who gives them this right?’

Does he want an apology? ‘No. Fuck ‘em. I don’t trust any of them … They’re all lawyered up to the max. Cardinal Pell’s arriving from Rome with 153 lawyers. He’s all set. He’s got his story worked out. Nothin’s gonna touch Cardinal Pell.’

Giorgio believes the trauma will never go away. ‘It happened more than half a century ago. How much of my life did they take? … That’s the question I can’t get out of my head.’

When former Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the formation of the Royal Commission, Giorgio was living in a van plotting his suicide. ‘I had a place and a plan.’

His psychiatrist said to him, why don’t you stay alive and see what happens? Giorgio didn’t see the point at first. He knew what happens. Hurt happens. ‘Then I thought fuck it, I am going to stay alive. I’m going to tell my story.’

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