Witness by Louise Milligan

Louise Milligan won the Walkley Book Award for her first book, Cardinal, which forensically and compassionately detailed the stories of several of the victims who made allegations of sexual abuse against George Pell and others within the Catholic Church. In her work as a journalist covering the trials, she had become closely acquainted with several of the victims and she was called as a witness herself. Consequently, she suffered firsthand the brutality that is often experienced by complainants in the adversarial judicial system. Despite not being the victim in this case, despite legal training and years of being a court reporter who knew the system inside and out, Milligan found being cross-examined by the defence ‘extremely traumatic’ and one of the worst experiences of her life. Milligan is clear, however, that this is not her story, and that she wrote the book for all the victims who do not have anything like the privilege she enjoys.

Milligan also details the cases of Saxon Mullins, who was raped in an alleyway behind a Sydney nightclub in 2013, and Paris Street, a former student at St Kevin’s College who in 2014 (at 14 years of age) was groomed by his athletics coach. Both victims experienced extreme trauma during the legal process, and both came up against impassable walls of power and privilege. Another fantastic Australian book on this subject is Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull, which details the author’s own harrowing experience as a complainant in a sexual abuse case. Both Lee and Milligan have legal training (Lee is a qualified lawyer and Milligan studied law and was a court reporter), both are articulate and have found the energy to fight for change despite their own trauma. Unfortunately, most do not enjoy this rare freedom; the system is broken and books like these are vital to the cause of reformation.

Kara Nicholson is part of the online Readings team.

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Louise Milligan

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