Sharing the most personal of stories can be difficult, but empowering for victim-survivors of child sexual abuse

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When Paul Nylander decided speak publicly about his experiences dealing with the trauma of child sexual abuse, he had no idea how it would be received.

“It was a leap of faith,” Dr Nylander said.

The retired Tasmanian GP said it had been difficult but a mostly positive experience for him.

“If not only for the fact I feel like I’m doing something to raise awareness for other people … it’s very important that I get to speak about what happened to me, but I think it’s more important that other people feel they can speak about themselves.”

Dr Nylander was repeatedly sexually abused when he was aged nine to 13 by a serial paedophile he met through a childhood friend.

He went on to have a successful career in medicine, including more than 30 years as a GP.

But he carried the burden of the abuse for many years, not realising until he was aged in his 40s that he “had a problem”.

He was in his late 50s before he started receiving treatment for childhood trauma from the sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Paul Nylander says he was heartened by support he received after sharing his story.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

Dr Nylander no longer lives in Tasmania, but felt compelled to speak out when three Tasmanian government ministers — including his sister, Attorney-General Elise Archer — were identified as having groaned in parliament during a question being asked by Opposition Leader Rebecca White on behalf of victim-survivor Tiffany Skeggs.

“I was really heartened by support that I got from friends and acquaintances,” Dr Nylander said.

Former patients contacted him in support, and two family members he had not had contact with for 15 and 20 years respectively also got in touch.

Dr Nylander said it was the support of others that had helped him “get through the negative emotional stuff”.

“Overwhelmingly there’s been good support, but it’s quite a difficult process to go through,” he said.

He was also surprised to see the level of support among victim-survivors for each other.

“They actually really have quite a supportive network going … it’s just amazing to see that in action. I wasn’t aware of that at all.”

Dr Nylander has the unwavering support of his wife, Lisa, but said some other family members had not been supportive.

“[The abuse] has cost me a fortune in lots of things that have stemmed from this, not just my own mental health, but for people in my own family that have been collateral damage I guess.

“I freely admit that I probably haven’t been the easiest person to live with, I know these things have an effect.

Level of damage ‘needs to be acknowledged’

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, 1.4 million adults — of 7.7 per cent of the adult population — have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

The ABS report, however, warns childhood abuse is widely under-reported, so the actual figure is expected to be much higher. The ABS figures also only count abuse perpetrated by an adult.

“The level of damage that’s still occurring just needs to be acknowledged,” Dr Nylander said.

“I don’t think they [the government] really get the magnitude of this problem.”

Paul and Lisa Nylander walking
Paul Nylander said he had been “heartened by the support” he received following his story becoming public.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

Tasmanian victim-survivor Wilma, who has told her story publicly but now wants to use a pseudonym, was sexually abused by a family member when she was a child.

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