Lateral Violence

On several occasions while participating in public events aimed at raising public awareness of Care Leaver/Forgotten Australian issues and demands, I have been personally attacked. Not with physical violence, thank goodness, but I have been insulted, yelled at, falsely accused of corruption, and otherwise taunted. And so have others who put their heart and soul into trying to gain justice for victims and survivors.

Most recently this public abuse occurred during a break in the proceedings of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse at Ballarat where, with a group of other Care Leavers/Forgotten Australians, I had been supporting those giving evidence of the terrible sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of the Catholic church. I had driven to Ballarat in the early morning with no time for breakfast, so I was looking forward to a coffee and something to eat.

I hardly got in the door of the café when I was attacked by a small but rowdy group of people who had earlier that morning attacked other Care Leavers/Forgotten Australians, reducing one of them to tears. I did not get my coffee. I was there to support victims/ survivors and their families, not to engage in a slanging match with people who seemed to have come for a different reason. I walked away because I know that these people are not interested in discussing facts – they trade in baseless gossip, name-calling, finger-pointing, backstabbing, put-downs and bullying.

I know that some of these attackers have themselves suffered terrible abuse and neglect when they were children in institutions and/or in foster ‘care’. I have no doubt they still carry the pain of their childhood, just like many of us.

So I’m left with the question: why do they turn on those who also carry terrible memories of pain and suffering from their childhood in so-called ‘care’? What makes them go for us who are trying to get justice and redress for Care Leavers/Forgotten Australians? Why are they not able to see that the real outcome of their behaviour is to deflect attention away from those who caused that pain and suffering to us all?

 Someone recently suggested I look at the research around the concept of ‘Lateral Violence’. It is common, apparently, within oppressed communities, for example in some indigenous communities in places as diverse as Canada and Australia, in some gay communities, and in pockets of the nursing profession where hierarchical command structures remain in place and oppress the nursing workforce.

Around the world, there appear to be ample instances of people who are victims of abuse of power turning on others who share the same history rather than confronting the system that oppresses them both. Sometimes, their anger stems from jealousy or envy that one advocacy group has been able to make some headway in earning government grants for their advocacy work, while they have not.

The aggressors are frustrated that they are unable to make their voice heard where it could make a difference. And they are unwilling to accept that some of their peers are making headway in sending their messages up to government and other power groups. For these and other reasons lateral violence is directed sideways – their peers become their target, and they continue to be stuck in the cycle of powerlessness, unresolved anger, pain, and shame.

The last thing I want to do is to get into the name-blame-and-shame game, but we must find a way to turn this negativity around and try to work together. At last resort, we are not the enemy; nor are they.

What can be done? Ideas please?