Category Archives: Sexual Abuse

Redress – Claytons or Fair Dinkum?

Redress – Claytons or Fair Dinkum?

In late October/early November I was invited to Sweden along with Associate Professor Jacqui Wilson of Federation University (another Care Leaver) to talk about the state of play with the Australian Royal Commission’s recommendations on redress.
We planned to present an essentially negative story about why the Australian government had rejected the Commission’s recommendations on redress.  Despite intensive lobbying by CLAN and other stakeholder, the government had been silent for more than a year on the whole question of redress.
A few days before we were due to present our paper, the government dropped a bomb. There would be a national independent redress scheme after all! There was much joy and excitement.
However, after frantic phone calls, emails and texts between us and our well-informed colleagues in Australia Jacqui and I were soon alerted to be cautious about changing the main thrust of our presentation. As the details (and the lack of them when Ministers were pressed for answers)  one commentator (Wendy Bacon) accurately summed up the position: it was like getting a kiss and then a kick.

The opt-in principle is a cop-out

The scheme was to be based on an opt-in principle – and it was (and remains) clear that some of the States and churches were (and are) not too keen to opt in.
With the ink hardly dried on the government’s media release and a government-inspired Q&A sheet which had more Qs than As, Jacqui and I quite dubbed it a Clayton’s Redress Scheme. The participants – from over a dozen nations – needed a translation! It’s like the drink you have when you’re not having a drink, we explained. They got the point. 
A couple of weeks ago, the CLAN CEO and I joined with a group of advocates, lawyers and other stakeholders in meeting with the Australian Minister for Social Services (Christian Porter) and (separately) with Opposition and cross-bench Parliamentarians in Canberra.
Minister Porter was not able to give us any firm commitments or expand on our knowledge about the National Redress Scheme that his government was proposing. Nothing had been clarified between the initial announcement and this meeting – at least nothing the government was prepared to divulge. 
Mr Porter acknowledged that his government has no powers to oblige anyone to opt in to the scheme (except the two Territories who are small players anyway). He conceded that at least one State was implacably opposed to it and the five other states were non-committal. Likewise, he was not able to say which churches and charities, if any, have opted in.
His stock answer to our long list of questions was, “We are still working on that”.
The only clear commitment was to set up an Advisory Council which would, he said, have its first meeting before Christmas.

The Advisory Council

A few days ago Minister Porter’s colleague, the Attorney-General George Brandis, issued a statement announcing the names of the Advisory Council. There will be 15 members, among them CLAN’s CEO, Leonie Sheedy, and Caroline Carroll, the current Chair of the so-called Alliance for Forgotten Australians. These are the only Care Leavers on the Advisory Council. 
The media release explains “the principal purpose” of the Advisory Council will be to give the government “independent advice”.  It also indicates four areas in which particular advice will be sought.
  • One of these areas is “the governing principles that underpin the scheme”, which is strange given the government already has a very detailed report on that matter from the Royal Commission.
  • Another area – “how to best encourage state, territory and non-government institution participation in the scheme” – seems very odd. Surely, it’s  the Australian government’s role to work out how to get other levels of government and the churches and charities to join a national scheme.
  • The fourth area – about how the proposed national scheme should interact with “other redress schemes” – is something that Jacqui and I commented on in our Norrkoping presentation. It goes to fundamental problems inherent in grafting a sexual-abuse-only scheme on to schemes that have given redress to survivors of other forms of abuse and neglect. It will also turn on the question of how a proposed  broad-based scheme for survivors of abuse in all forms of institutions can be integrated with schemes that focused on survivors in 24/7 closed institutions only.  
The members of the Council have not yet been given a date for their first meeting or a schedule of dates thereafter. 
In sum, an Advisory Council has been set up to provide advice to the Australian government, but the “opt-in-if-you-like”  principle of state/territory governments and churches and charities remains in place and as of today’s date there is no change to the position Jacqui and I outlined in Norrkoping.
That is, the Australian government has made a public announcement about a redress scheme but is a very long way from being in a position to make it work.  There is reason to believe it never will, unless there is a drastic re-casting. 

Lost and Found: Reconstructing a family at war

Lost and Found: Reconstructing a family at war

This was the title of a paper I presented at the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne on 13 December 2016 at a conference entitled (Re)Examining Historical Childhoods: Literary, Cultural, Social

The conference was organised by the Australasian Society for the History of Children and Youth.

I am working this paper up as a result of feedback and ideas raised in the discussion, and will publish it in full in early 2017, so I will only give the merest idea of what I covered on the day.

First I showed how the appalling language used by welfare and media over decades reflected  (and in some cases still reflects) the values that underpin the prevailing views of working-class children and their families. Essentially, it is the language of contempt and disdain.

At the same time, the language signalled the power relations which oppressed and silenced those on the bottom rungs of Australian society. In particular, the voices of children are missing from what passes as the history of child welfare. Nobody thought that children might have something worth listening to – a theme that emerged time and again during the Senate Inquiry (Forgotten Australians 2004).

In addition, the personal records that Care Leavers find in the archives are totally inadequate – many are short on real facts, and are inaccurate, unbalanced, and misleading. (Not to mention the knee-jerk reaction to censorship when ‘third-party’ people are found in our records.)

A great deal has changed in the ‘Age of Testimony‘ in which thousands of former residents of instituions have told their stories to commissions of inquiry – have gone on record, and have been believed. I likened these stories to a kind of counter-narrative or crowd-sourced alternative history.

This alternative history is challenging and changing the way many historians look at the past. I also briefly alluded to ways in which Care Leavers are (re) examining their childhood narratives and reconstructing more complex and nuanced counter-narratives of their lives and that of their families.

I gave a brief sampling from my recently-completed work on my mother’s side of the family. From an inauspicious starting point with an 11-year-old boy incarcerated at the wish of his brutish stepfather in 1865, I have discovered more than 30 members of the family who have been sent to a total of 16 different Victorian institutions over five generations. And the welfare system had no means of joining the dots that made up the story of this family.

Given the paucity of official records kept on these children, I have had to reconstruct my family’s story from a wide range of sources found outside the welfare industry. My manuscript is almost finished and I will be looking to publish the book in 2017 with the tentative title:

That’s Not My Child: The Welfare and a Family at War

Svetlana Alexeviech didn’t make it to the Royal Commission

A brilliant essay given by Maria Tumarkin at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

A short version was published in The Conversation on Friday 9 September – reprinted here with permission.

Among other things, Maria asked: “Have we outsourced the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission?” Some say yes.  Others, like Maria, asks: Who is the ‘we’ in the question?

What is the  link to Svetlana Alexeviech and Chernobyl? Child sexual abuse, says Maria,  is like radiation poisoning, omnipresent and invisible.

 It stays in people’s lives like radiation stays in the soil for thousands of years. It stays in families and physical places. It kills people. It makes people sick for generations to come. It is that future that is already here. No colour. No smell. Nothing to tell us it’s here.

She draws on the words of Psychiatrist , Paul Valent, to introduce  another startling metaphor:

Some people call child sexual abuse ‘soul murder’. It is a real destruction of a person’s value and dignity … Generationally too … It interferes with love. It is the opposite of loving.

Maria argues that, if ‘we’ are outsourcing the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission,  it will count for nothing in the end ‘if we continue relying on it to do the work of public reckoning with the history of systemic sexual abuse of children in this country’. It’s our work.

Child Sexual Abuse in Out-of-Home Care

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has recently released 55 submissions in response to their ‘Consultation Paper: Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Out-of-Home Care’

You can download and read the submissions here.

This is my submission dated 11 March 2016.

I became aware of the above Consultation Paper only yesterday, and as I am leaving the country on Tuesday 15 March for a month I have time to make just a few comments on some selected aspects of the Paper. I wish I had more time because I think it is a very important area of discussion.

1. The Royal Commission’s attention to OOHC

My observation is that the Commission has not done nearly enough in this sector which is commonly described as crisis-driven. The Commission reports that OOHC is by far the largest category of institutions identified in the more than 4,700 private sessions. More than 40 per cent of all reports of child sexual abuse were located in the OOHC sector. (Footnote 1: Depending on how tight the definition of OOHC, this figure could be as high as 46%.)

Yet only 11 of the public hearings of 37 to date have examined OOHC. This is unjustifiably disproportionate. The Commission has allocated far more time to Case Studies involving churches and schools than to OOHC.

The OOHC Round Table conducted by the Commission in April 2014 was profoundly disappointing, and Case Study 24 held in Sydney in March and June 2015 more closely resembled a cheerful seminar than rigorous examination of experts and the hard facts.

It was dominated by agencies with a vested interest in putting their best foot forward while advocacy representatives were accorded inadequate opportunity to give their insights. The commissioned research on the evaluation of OOHC practices that prevent child sexual abuse was depressingly inadequate.

2. The poor state of knowledge throughout Australia in relation to the incidence of child sexual abuse in OOHC (pp. 27-31)

The lack of accurate, consistent and complete data is a major problem which the Royal Commission must address in its final report—or preferably by commissioning more research as a matter of urgency. It is difficult to know what changes might be effective, as the Paper says, without knowing ‘the true shape and size of the problem’ (p. 28)

Yet, we need not be totally paralysed by this lack of national data. Some data produced by and for the Royal Commission to date should be taken as symptomatic of issues where immediate action (or at least further investigation) is warranted. The high incidence of sexual abuse in residential ‘care’ compared with other forms of OOHC is a case in point.

It is remarkable—and great cause for concern—that while only 5 per cent of children in OOHC are in residential settings, 33 per cent of reports of child sexual abuse in the period 2012-2014 come from residential facilities (Charts 1.1 & 1.2).

This raises questions such as the quality of supervision of residents, the training and professional development of staff, and, indeed, the process of determining which children are placed in residential facilities and why, and the relationship which is allowed (or not) between inmates and their families.

3. Child-on-child sexual abuse

The Paper states: ‘We have been told that more needs to be done to better protect children from, and respond to, issues of child-to-child sexual abuse in OOHC’ (p. 6). I think this is a very complex issue and should not be rolled out so glibly. The Paper states: ‘We have heard evidence in public hearings that child-to-child sexual abuse is a serious and common problem in contemporary OOHC’ (p. 6).

It is disappointing that this statement is so vague. What evidence? Who provided it? Was it substantiated evidence? Some of this evidence may have been coloured by the first version of the commissioned research (now amended) which made a wholly unsubstantiated claim about child-on-child sexual abuse which was picked up and repeated by Counsel Assisting the Commission on 10 March 2015 who stated:

The major focus of preventing child sexual abuse in out of home care should be on efforts to prevent child to child sexual abuse rather than caregiver child sexual abuse, since this type of abuse likely represents the vast majority of observed child sexual abuse in out of home care. (Footnote 2: Gail Furness SC, Public Hearing, 10 March 2015, para. 96, p. 22)

This fallacious and damaging statement has not been publicly corrected and remains a permanent part of the Commission’s official record. Much better research is needed in this area—as a matter of some urgency. In the meantime, sweeping generalisations should be avoided.

Likewise, the use of terms like ‘perpetrator’ and ‘abuser’ should not be applied to children in OOHC without sensitive and nuanced discussion about what such labels imply in the context of closed institutions and the ethics of labelling victims/ survivors/ perpetrators.

Moreover, the phenomenon of child-on-child sexual abuse needs to be better defined, described and analysed. It is most unlikely that all incidents allotted to this category of events are conceptually the same.

Issues such as the age gap between the two children, their relative lengths of time in ‘care’, and any prior history of sexualised behaviour could be significant variables in differentiating types of incidents—and the ways they are best handled.

4. Historical sexual abuse

In reference to sexual abuse that occurred in OHHC many years ago, the Consultation Paper states that ‘We have heard numerous accounts of the significant sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children that occurred in these institutions and its detrimental impact on many people’s lives’ (p. 4).

It is disappointing that the Paper then dismisses what it calls ‘Historical context’ and then ‘Shifting attitudes’ in a single page (p. 20). This suggests to me the writer of the Paper is much too ready to dismiss historical experience as irrelevant to contemporary OOHS and, worse, to suggest that somehow times have changed.

This is a concern because we know that, while closed institutions like orphanages and other forms of residential life have changed in terms of architecture, size and human scale, many of the features of the old culture have not changed.

This is illustrated by the report of the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People which is cited in the Paper. (Footnote 3:  Inquiry into the adequacy of the provision of residential care services to Victorian children and young people who have been subject to sexual abuse or sexual exploitation whilst residing in residential care, 2015.) 

Social history is rarely marked by sudden shifts in policies and institutional practices and the then-but-now syndrome can be hazardous.

Moreover, survivors of sexual abuse, even when it occurred decades ago, hardly ever think of that experience as ‘historical’. Many of them attest to the fact that the past is always with them. Many of them have come forward to the Commission precisely because they think there is something to be learned from their ‘historical’ experience. They don’t want the lessons of the past to be ignored.

In addition, it is well known anecdotally among Care Leavers that many children in OHHC today are the children and grandchildren of former state wards and Homies. I know of no systematic research that assesses the incidence of inter-generational institutionalisation. None of the relevant authorities think this data could be useful to them, but I beg to differ because such a study would shed some light on how families get on, and stay on the welfare treadmill—and thus become potentially the next generation of abused residents.

5. Access to Care Leaver records and information

It is pleasing to note that the Commission is working in the important area of access to records. The summary on pages 118-19 is a very good listing. However, I think there are three very important elements that the Paper misses because it focuses only on the problems of access.

The first of these is related to the participation of the young person in OOHC in constructing the record. The young person’s voice is almost always silent in these records because agencies who make and keep the records rarely think to invite the subject person to make a contribution to the record. This is a significant omission because critical incidents are always recorded from an adult’s perspective whereas the child is likely to have some important insights worth recording.

One result of not engaging the young person is that when they do gain access to their records, they are often shocked by the prevailing negativity of the contents, especially when value judgments of the adult writer are so obviously unwarranted or unfair.

Many Care Leavers complain about omissions from their records especially when they recall events such as a complaint they made about their treatment. Involving the young person in contributing to the records would almost certainly make it a more balanced narrative of their life in OOHC.

Likewise, there are some legislated opportunities for Care Leavers to challenge usually by adding another version of events to the record. However, this opportunity is rarely exercised for a variety of reasons not the least being the government and non-government agencies rarely publicise the existence of this provision.

The second and related issue is that of ownership. Care Leavers often speak of making application for ‘my file’ in the mistaken expectation that as adults they own the record made about them as children and can go and pick it up. They are genuinely shocked to be told by record keepers that the Department, or the agency, owns the file and the best they can expect is a photocopy of it, or some of it. This mismatch of expectations with harsh and unreasonable legal reality is the cause of considerable angst.

In some cases, Care Leavers, especially those who may have been abused and are considering taking an action for redress, are suspicious of agencies’ motives in withholding material. It is my contention that there is little justification for government and non-government agencies being so precious about their control of these records. A change of legislation accompanied by a change in culture is required.

The third issue that the paper omits is reference to statutory obligations related to record making and keeping. It beggars belief that a government or non-government agency can hold custody of a child sometimes for years and not be required by law to construct and maintain an official record of the child’s time in their custody. But such has been the practice in many cases that records were never kept or were so superficial as to offer no insights into the circumstances at a later time. It should not be difficult to develop a list of essential items of information that should be kept in every child’s record.

These would be matters relevant to

  •  identity such as birth certificate, name and last known address of immediate family members, and evidence of family religious affiliations such as the child’s baptism certificate or similar;
  • reasons for the child’s initial admission to OOHC including any court orders;
  •  medical conditions and treatments;
  •  school progress;
  •  details of all changes of placements including reasons for transfer;
  •  names of any person who visits the child while in care;
  •  critical incidents that affected the child’s development positively or negatively; and
  •  arrangements made when the child or young person was to be discharged for OOHC.

It should not be difficult to mandate that these primary documents must be safeguarded by the relevant agency and their loss or destruction should result in a penalty for the offending agency.

I trust you will find what I have written in haste to be of relevance to the Royal Commission’s further work in this somewhat neglected area.

Yours sincerely

Frank Golding

 

Mismanaging Expectations: The dominance of sexual abuse at the royal commission

This is the final draft of my paper for the Biennial European Social Science History Conference of the International Institute of Social History to be held in Valencia, Spain 30 March to 2 April 2016. Read more about the Conference here

Given that there are several papers being presented on related issues, I will revise my paper after the Conference in the light of feedback and discussion. 

As well, I would value any feedback from readers on this site.

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Mismanaging Expectations: Sexual abuse as the dominant form of child abuse (DRAFT – a work in progress) © Frank Golding, March 2016

Abstract

In late 2012 the Australian Prime Minister announced a royal commission into the institutional handling of child abuse and Care Leaver advocacy groups thought they had finally won what they richly deserved after years of lobbying. They expected that the commission would lead to a national independent redress scheme for abuse and neglect in institutional ‘care’. They were soon disillusioned. This was not the Royal commission they had expected. The commission’s terms of reference were both too narrow with a focus on sexual abuse only, and too broad in encompassing a wide range of institutions which had never before been the subject of official inquiries. This paper explores why the terms of reference were framed with that agenda and why this commission was established at this time when Australian governments had rejected previous calls for a commission. The answers are complex. Even within the survivor advocacy sector there were competing voices with some stakeholders advocating for sexual abuse only. More importantly, Care Leavers advocacy groups were outweighed by the stronger forces lobbying privately and in public for an inquiry into sexual abuse—particularly clergy sexual abuse—rather than all forms of child abuse. Widespread concern that the church had done itself immense reputational harm by ineptitude, cover-ups and denials of clergy sexual abuse led some to interpret the commission as an anti-Catholic campaign. But sober voices both within the church and elsewhere have argued that child sexual abuse could no longer be regarded as a sin to be handled internally within institutions but a crime for which the state and civil society must carry superordinate responsibility. The emergence of well-publicised inquiries contributed to a momentum that finally left the government no alternative but to intervene. In the process, the interests of Care Leavers became subordinate and ultimately this royal commission has let them down.

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Expectations raised

Despite the political impediment that child welfare is a matter for the states and territories and any legally sanctioned inquiry under the Australian constitution and would require all jurisdictions simultaneously to enact enabling legislation, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on 12 November 2012 that her government would establish a national royal commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This was an extraordinary political achievement. It was also probably the most popular decision of Gillard’s term in office: the Sydney Morning Herald splashed a front page with a Fairfax/Neilson poll showing a record 95 percent support.[1]

Six days after her announcement, Julia Gillard wrote to the peak body Care Leavers Australia (now Australasia) Network (CLAN):

The Royal Commission would not be a reality with[out] the advocacy and dedication of organisations like the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) who have made sure that survivors’ stories have been heard...[2]

She and the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, also sent separate hand-written messages to CLAN. ‘The Royal Commission is a tribute to your efforts,’ wrote the PM.[3] Care Leavers saw it as their peak achievement after years of struggle during which CLAN had met Commonwealth and State Ministers, lobbied political parties, courted key advocates inside and out of politics, conducted monthly public protests and orchestrated a letter-writing campaign.[4] The initial reaction of Care Leavers to the announcement of the royal commission was rapturous. Messages of congratulations flooded in.[5]

In what has been variously described as the age of testimony, the age of regret and the age of apologies,[6] Care Leavers in Australia saw themselves as part of what Johanna Sköld and others have called the ‘global chain of inquiry’[7] across more than a dozen nations in the past fifteen to twenty years. Shurlee Swain’s analysis of 83 previous Australian inquiries into institutions providing out-of-home care for children held between 1852 and 2013, identified a distinct shift in emphasis from the 1990s—as in other nations—towards hearing evidence from victims or survivors. As Sköld correctly points out:

What is new about the inquiries from the 1990s onward is that the victims themselves have been given the opportunity to tell their stories; that the stories have gained the attention of the media; and that there have been expectations that these testimonies should influence the national historical narrative and national identity and that this, in continuation, would lead to a process of reconciliation and redress as well as actions to prevent future abuse.[8]

In Australia, a chain of national inquiries produced more than 1400 submissions, most of them survivor testimony. These included:

  • The separation of Indigenous children from their families (1999) which produced 535 submissions;[9]
  • Child Migrants (2001) 253 submissions;[10]
  • Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children (2004) 614 submissions.[11]

Fred Powell and Margaret Scanlon (2015) assert that the emergence of survivor groups has been perhaps ‘the most impressive development within Irish civil society in relation to children’s rights’.[12] Such a claim might equally be true of Australia. The voices of Australian Care Leaver survivors are now being heard with a compelling force not heard in previous eras.[13] Not only have survivors’ testimony created a new national narrative, or counter-history, but survivor advocates have been instrumental in bringing these inquiries into being. Senator Andrew Murray, a leading member of the two Senate inquiries—and now one of the current six royal commissioners—declared that the Senate Forgotten Australians (2004) inquiry ‘would never have seen the light of day’ had it not been for the persistent lobbying of concerned activists.[14]

On the basis of the powerful testimony provided to the 2004 inquiry—‘a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and sexual assault…neglect, humiliation and deprivation of food, education and healthcare’[15]the Senate inquiry concluded that the evidence:

warrants a Royal Commission into the extent of physical and/or sexual assault within institutions and the degree to which criminal practices were concealed by the relevant State and/or Church authorities.[16]

However, the Australian Government under John Howard in 2005 rejected the proposal by quarantining moral leadership at state borders:

The offences…are offences under state/territory law. Any investigation of the nominated institutions is, therefore, a matter for state and territory governments.[17]

Care Leavers refused to give up. They lobbied the Senate Committee to review the progress on the Child Migrants and Forgotten Australians reports. Senator Murray raised a theme that would resonate into the future: it was not just a matter of bringing individual perpetrators to justice but investigating how institutions allowed rampant abuse to occur unchecked.

I remain a supporter of a royal commission…Amongst the tens of thousands of religious people who are in churches and agencies that deal with children in care, there is only a minority that are criminals, but the majority protected the minority.[18]

However, the Senate Committee decided not to re-endorse its earlier recommendation because it doubted a royal commission would succeed in exposing and prosecuting perpetrators. Moreover, the Committee sensed ‘that there may be unrealistic expectations held by many as to the outcome of a Royal commission’.[19]

‘Unrealistic expectations’. Prophetic perhaps. Five months after the release of that Senate report, the Australian Government (under Kevin Rudd) issued a national apology; and, three years on, Julia Gillard coupled the royal commission genealogically with the national apology. She told CLAN:

It is fitting that I announced this Royal commission in the same week as we remember the third anniversary of the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants on 16 November 2012.[20]

The language of that apology had been carefully crafted after consultation with Care Leaver advocacy groups. An audience of 800 Care Leavers and former Child Migrants in the Great Hall of Parliament House, with countless thousands watching live telecasts around the nation, heard Prime Minister Rudd say:

Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care…We look back with shame that many of these little ones who were entrusted to institutions and foster homes instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly, violated sexually.[21]

Malcolm Turnbull, then Leader of the Opposition (now Prime Minister) wholeheartedly supported the Prime Minister.[22] The apology agenda was the broad spectrum of abuse and neglect with no pre-eminence given to sexual abuse.

Three years later, when Care leavers heard a new Prime Minister say that the royal commission’s ‘main focus will be to investigate systemic failures within church and state-run institutions in preventing and dealing with child abuse’[23] they could be forgiven for thinking that this would be a more rigorous re-run of ‘their’ Senate inquiries. This Prime Minister was telling Care Leavers, ‘We want your voices to be heard.’

Even if you felt for all of your life that no one’s listened to you, that no one has taken you seriously, that no one has really cared, the Royal commission is an opportunity for your voice to be heard. [24]

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Expectations dashed: sexual abuse only

When she confirmed the Terms of Reference, on 11 January 2013, Gillard announced: ‘[T]he Royal commission… will not deal with abuse of children which is not associated with child sexual abuse. [25] The Prime Minister went on:

Of course physical mistreatment, neglect, are very evil things. Anything that stops a child having a safe and happy childhood is an evil thing.

But we’ve needed to make some decisions about what makes this a process that can be manageable and can be worked through in a timeframe that gives the recommendations real meaning.[26]

Gillard knew that the only survivor voices this royal commission would hear were those of the survivors of sexual abuse. Other survivors would be silenced, again, and many would nurse, again, the feeling their own stories of horrific abuse are considered not worthy of public testimony, their abuse somehow inferior.

Care Leavers were most particularly distressed by the commission’s final recommendations in regard to monetary redress—‘the most controversial element of the inquiry process’—which were tabled mid-way through the commission’s time-table.[27] At the public hearings and in submissions, CLAN and others made repeated but futile attempts to have the commission consider the broad range of crimes against children and repeatedly urged it to extend its recommendations on redress.[28] The New South Wales Bar Association agreed: ‘It would be arbitrary and, in our view, irrational to exclude physical abuse’.[29] CLAN was blunt: ‘We want Redress for all Care Leavers who suffered abuse while in the child welfare system. For Care Leavers this is not just about sexual abuse.’[30] CLAN sought to influence matters by taking a case to the UN in Geneva in 2014.[31]

The royal commission rejected these pleas. It would consider other forms of abuse or maltreatment, such as physical assault, exploitation, deprivation or neglect only when they were also associated with incidents of sexual abuse.[32] The commission acknowledged that its final recommended model for redress was narrower than other forms of redress that have existed in Australia because ‘most previous and current redress schemes cover at least sexual and physical abuse. Some also cover emotional abuse or neglect’.[33]

In effect, the vast majority of Care leavers who experienced physical assault, exploitation, emotional abuse, deprivation, or neglect are now excluded under the royal commission’s proposal. The commission was well aware of the impact on Care Leavers of their advice.

We appreciate that this approach will disappoint a number of those who have participated in our consultation processes to date, some survivor advocacy and support groups and some of the broader groups of those who experienced institutional care.[34]

Jesuit academic lawyer Father Frank Brennan believes that the royal commission had been too focused on financial compensation and in doing so, ‘it has set up unreal expectations for victims and their supporters…’[35] In March 2015, the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, announced that he did not support a national redress scheme, but on the very day of the release of the commission’s report (25/9/2015), Abbott lost the Prime Ministership to Malcolm Turnbull, a Patron of CLAN. (Not that these events are in any way connected!) At the time of writing this paper, the Labor Party and the Greens had endorsed a national scheme in principle, as have the Catholic church and some other churches, but the Turnbull government’s long awaited decision, announced on 29/1/2016, is timid: a national scheme would be a good thing, it declared, but we won’t initiate one.[36]

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Expectations dashed: ‘this is not our royal commission

There was a second shock in store for Care Leavers. The earlier Australian inquiries had focused on abuse and neglect in closed institutions – orphanages, children’s Homes, foster ‘care’ and residential ‘care’ where children were managed full-time without their families. However, the Letters Patent of this royal commission defined an institution in a completely different way:

…any public or private body, agency, association, club, institution, organisation or other entity or group of entities of any kind (whether incorporated or unincorporated)…that provides, or has at any time provided, activities, facilities, programs or services of any kind that provide the means through which adults have contact with children, including through their families; [but]…does not include the family.[37]

Day schools and boarding schools would be included; so too would sporting clubs, scouts, children’s services, churches, youth groups, as well as orphanages, foster care and residential care.[38] This made the case for a national redress scheme more complicated; and Care Leavers who were sexually abused in closed institutions would have to join the long queues of those who were sexually abused by the Scouts, the YMCA, sporting clubs, in private schools and by priests in the confessional or in the choir stalls.

I can find little significant lobbying for a royal commission from open institutions apart from the religion and education sectors. Taking a post-factor view, the royal commission’s first two case studies in public hearings focused on the Scouts and the YMCA and after 38 such case studies were completed or announced by March 2016 fewer than a third related to closed institutions. There is also a mismatch between the commission’s case studies and the proportions of survivors who have come forward to tell their personal stories in private sessions. Of nearly 5000 survivors in private sessions, 46 percent were abused in closed institutions. Schools (27%) and places of worship and church facilities (15%) made up the next two categories of abusive institutions. Survivors coming forward from other institutions such as recreation, sports and clubs are a minority group.[39]

After viewing the publicity attending the airing of scandals in wealthy private schools Care Leavers have expressed a sense of disillusionment. ‘This is not our royal commission,’ some said.[40]

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‘The core transgression of childhood innocence’?

Shurlee Swain reports that before 1990 it was rare for sexual abuse to be directly addressed in inquiry reports but in more recent times the weight of survivor testimony about sexual abuse led to the issue being singled out in most of the final reports.[41] Yet, while sexual abuse was now being freely mentioned in these more recent reports, the majority of Care Leaver testimony was not about sexual abuse. For example, in their submissions to the Forgotten Australians (2004) inquiry, Care leavers itemised 889 incidents of abuse. Of these, only 21 percent were about sexual abuse. The other 703 were:

  • Physical abuse 36 percent,
  • Emotional abuse 33 percent,
  • Child labour exploitation 6.7 percent, and
  • Neglect 3.3 percent.[42] [43]

Scant attention has been given to testimony received by the Senate inquiry from some Care Leavers that ‘sexual abuse was the least of our worries’. One put it this way:

In a place so full of brutality, sexual abuse did not rank as highly as other forms of abuse—such as mental and emotional torture…and the strings of punishment that never seemed to end.[44]

Among these other forms of abuse were medical experimentation and neglect of health, neglect, child labour, and placing children in adult mental health facilities. Contemporary child protection statistics also shows that a focus on sexual abuse alone distorts the problem of child abuse. In Victoria in 2012-13, 10,048 children were the subject of substantiated investigations of whom

  • 5,537 (55 percent) were substantiated cases of emotional abuse
  • 2,709 (27 percent) of physical abuse,
  • 1,319 (13 percent) of sexual abuse, and
  • 483 (5 percent) of neglect.[45]

Powell and Scanlon remind us that the Ryan inquiry in Ireland examined 2,694 reports of abuse, of which only 381 (or 7 percent) were about sexual abuse. But, as in Australia, it was sexual abuse which dominated the media.[46] Why then did sexual abuse become to be perceived as the ‘core transgression of innocent childhood’?[47]

Survivor advocacy organisations in Australia do not speak to government with one voice. The Senate Committee of 2004 cited three survivor support and advocacy groups that pushed hard for a Royal commission: CLAN, Broken Rites and Bravehearts.[48] The current royal commission named these three groups and four others which had lobbied for a commission.[49] Of these seven groups, five[50] focus on all forms of abuse and neglect in closed institutions while two[51] focus primarily on sexual abuse in open institutions. Bravehearts, for example, asserts that the offences of child sexual assault are different in nature from offences of child abuse and neglect and bundling child sexual assault in the suite of matters referred to collectively as child abuse and neglect was harming efforts to prevent child sexual assault.[52]

I am not arguing that the royal commission’s terms of reference were determined by any superior case put by the sexual-abuse-only advocacy lobby, but it may have been one factor. As Julia Gillard told the media, ‘There’s been debate between some of the groups that represent survivors about how broad this Royal commission should go.’[53]

It could be asserted that media managers and consumers will always preference an interest in sexual abuse of children over other stories of child abuse.[54] It’s emotionally magnetic.[55] What other crime against children could generate such an extensive international sexual abuse literature including more than 50 feature films or documentaries in the past fifteen years (the latest being this year’s Oscar winner, Spotlight)?[56] You know it commands public attention when the royal commission deemed worth of screening live on a giant screen in Melbourne’s Federation Square that is usually devoted to live sports and music.

There can be no doubt that clergy sexual abuse and what the church does—or does not do—about it exercises the minds of people in high places more than any other form of child abuse. It is, to use Ronald Niezen’s term, ‘the worst-of-all-possible-scandals’[57]

It may be not so much a question of why stories become media fodder so much as the practical impact of media exposure—what sticks in the mind after the stories are told. Key people acknowledge that media stories and their ‘take-away’ messages influence their judgment as to what must be done—or not done. For example, Julia Gillard responded to a question about what tipped the scales in her seemingly sudden decision to establish the Royal commission.

The impact for me, clearly, over the past few weeks we’ve seen revelations in the newspapers and more broadly which really go to the question of cover-up, of other adults not doing what they should have done…[58]

Commentators make a similar point: it was not so much the media stories about sexual abuse itself but the scandals about cover-ups and protection of abusive clergy. Ray Cassin argues that the chief impetus for the Royal commission was the disclosure of the appalling record of concealment of abuse in Catholic institutions, and the protection of perpetrators by church leaders:

If that record did not exist, the royal commission would not exist. And Catholics — especially bishops and major superiors — cannot evade this fact by complaining, as they sometimes do, about malicious reporting by hostile secular media. If the abuses had not occurred, the reports could not have been written.[59]

When Cardinal Pell told the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry that his church had covered up abuse for fear of scandal and that his predecessor Archbishop Little had destroyed records and moved criminal priests from parish to parish to cover up their crimes, he should not have been surprised that the media had a bonanza. The stories the media missed earlier became the story.[60]

In 2013 Cardinal Pell told the Victorian inquiry that there was a major problem with paedophilia within the ranks of the church in the late 1980s, but ‘I do not think anybody then had a recognition of the full extent that would emerge, but it was in the press.’[61] Patrick Parkinson argues that the claim that Catholic church leaders were on a steep learning curve in the 1980s and 1990s is a ‘convenient fiction’.[62] Catholic church leaders were well aware of the problem because they dealt with 142 claims of child sexual abuse in the 1970s, all handled in-house.[63] The problem they sought to manage was not the crimes but the minimisation of scandal. Church leaders are aware of the power of mass media. Pell complained to the Victorian inquiry about ‘25 years of intermittent hostility from the press…’; although he had the wit to claim a positive side to media hostility. It had, he said, ‘a beneficial effect of encouraging us to deal with it’.[64]

It has to be said the church did not ‘deal with it’ very well. A spate of high-profile cases, all of them involving child sexual abuse, were so bungled by church leaders that media attention was prolonged with increasingly aggressive headlines like ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’.[65] Some of these notorious cases—John Ellis, the Fosters, David Ridsdale and St Alipius—have subsequently been examined in detail by the royal commission, with the media given another opportunity to excoriate the church again.[66]

George Pell’s own conduct in some of these matters—characterised as ‘hostile to victims and protective of the church’[67]—has become a matter for public controversy. However, the personalisation of the discussion can distract us from significant issues related to the relationship between church and state in Australia.

#######

State intervention in ‘the ultimate collective shame’

A Catholic spokesman expects that by early 2017 the commission will have held 50 public hearings and that around a third of them will have focused on Catholic schools, dioceses, parishes, homes and other organisations.[68] By contrast, as I write, fewer than a third of the public hearings have focused on closed institutions to date.

The then Leader of the Opposition and close personal friend of Cardinal Pell, Tony Abbott, had made it clear that bi-partisan support for a royal commission would only be given if it did not focus on just the Catholic church.[69] ‘This is not a Royal commission targeted at any one church,’ Gillard asserted.[70] But not everyone believed her, or agreed with her. Some make much of Gillard speaking to Pell—and no other church leader—before she announced the Commission. ‘Given the nature of some of the material in the public domain,’ she explained, ‘I thought it was appropriate to speak to Cardinal Pell.’[71] To which Father Frank Brennan replied: ‘Given that Cardinal Pell was the only church leader to whom she spoke, there can be no doubt but that one particular church is in the sights of the Royal commission.’[72] Some made no bones about their target. Labor Senator Doug Cameron wanted the Catholic Church to be the only target of any inquiry because ‘that’s where the major problem seems to be’. Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, said a royal commission would be in the interests of ‘the victims, their families and the Catholic Church’.[73]

There is a plausible case to argue that given widespread knowledge that child sexual abuse was far more common in the Catholic church than any other institution,[74] Gillard bent over backwards not to appear to be witch-hunting the Catholics, and that explains why the terms of reference of the commission defined institutions so broadly. Moreover, those who claim a plot against the Catholic church should be reminded of an earlier campaign to establish a royal commission which gained momentum from late 2001 through a prolonged scandal involving the Governor-General of Australia. Peter Hollingworth was a former Australian of the Year and an official Australian Living Legend. More to the point, he was the former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane—and his appointment as Governor-General caused some old tensions to resurface around the relationship between church and state in Australia. The bitter public debate about his handling of clergy sexual abuse held the media in thrall.

At the time, the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, and other notables, called for a royal commission into child sexual assault: ‘It has to be done nationally – you can’t do it at a state level because pedophilia and abuse don’t stop at the border’.[75] Some church leaders and other State political leaders and parties at the national level chimed in, including the ALP and the Democrats.[76] Ultimately in May 2003, Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General and calls for a royal commission subsided, but the issues arising from the controversy continued to resonate. Andrew Bartlett, Leader of the Australian Democrats voiced this concern: ‘If the organisation responsible for caring for children does not get their act together in this most important of duties, they should not get public funding’.[77]

Jeff Kennett, the Victorian Premier in the mid-1990s has confirmed that he warned Cardinal Pell to resolve allegations of child sexual abuse or possibly face a royal commission.[78] Pell confirms: ‘I was…summoned by the Premier at the time who made it clear that if we did not clean the church up, then he would, and so we made a determined effort to do so’.[79] It is now clear that this church and others like the Salvation Army did not ‘clean themselves up’. [80]

David Marr argues that the Irish scandals ‘left church and state reeling’ in Australia.[81] The political protection offered to the churches began to falter. ‘A few cracks appear, a floor sags, and then one day the whole house collapses.’[82] The metaphor is seductive, but it is too simplistic: it overlooks similar scandals in other countries—‘the global chain’—not to mention politically discomfiting disclosures at home. The Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report (the Cummings Report, 2012), a somewhat neglected link in the local chain of inquiries, argued persuasively that the state should no longer tolerate the church handling sexual abuse of children in-house as if it were a mere sin.

A private system of investigation and compensation, no matter how faithfully conducted, by definition cannot fulfil the responsibility of the State to investigate and prosecute crime. Crime is a public, not a private, matter.[83]

A few months later, in April 2012, the Victorian Government asked a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the internal processes by which religious and other non-government organisations handle criminal abuse of children.[84] Although that inquiry examined all forms of abuse of children by clergy and other non-government ‘care’ agencies, much of the media again spotlighted sexual abuse in the Catholic church. In particular, there was damaging evidence offered by Victoria Police about the church’s processes which amounted to a substitute for criminal justice and was an impediment in prosecuting suspected sexual criminals.[85]

In the midst of these revelations from the Victorian inquiry, in November 2012, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox of the NSW Police, went to the media with the claim that he had been stood down from his investigation of clergy child abuse in the Hunter region of NSW and that, with the connivance of police, ‘the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church’.[86] The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, immediately announced a Special Commission of Inquiry into these allegations.[87]

The two largest states of Australia were now running ahead of the national government and within two days of O’Farrell’s announcement the national government decided it was time to assert moral authority and reassert its public duty to treat the sexual abuse of children—and its cover-up—as a crime. We could interpret this state intervention in the churches’ handling of child sexual abuse as an attempt to assuage ‘the ultimate collective shame’.[88] Alternatively, we could argue that, by now, opinion leaders—including people within the churches—were beginning to see that the state could no longer absolve itself from responsibility because it can never be state policy to allow anyone, however exalted, to sexually abuse children and not be brought to justice. The shame, ultimately, was vulnerable children had been criminally abused and society had let it happen—or worse, had abetted criminals. Father Frank Brennan, who previously opposed the establishment of a royal commission, expressed a widespread view that the state and civil society had to intervene in his church. To fail to do so would be ‘a wrongful invocation of freedom of religion in a pluralist, democratic society.[89]

In that he added his voice to those of academics, journalists, lawyers, and politicians in spruiking the case for an inquiry into sexual abuse, clergy abuse in particular, and in many instances these lobbyists had little interest in other forms of child abuse.[90] The advent of the royal commission signalled ultimately the end of unquestioning state support for the churches.

#######

Conclusion

Care Leaver advocacy groups struggled for years and thought they had finally won the royal commission they deserved. However, their expectations were not met. The commission’s terms of reference were both too narrow with the focus on sexual abuse only, and too broad in encompassing both open and closed institutions. The royal commission has left many Care Leavers feeling disillusioned. Many who had learned as children never to trust authority were re-traumatised by being sidelined and excluded by a government they thought would ‘do the right thing’ by them especially in regard to redress.

This paper raised some critical questions: Why the exclusive focus on sexual abuse when other forms of abuse are more often reported? Why, when previous inquiries examined child abuse in closed institutions, this royal commission was extended to cover open institutions as well? Why now, at this time, when Australian governments were not so long ago opposed to a royal commission into child abuse?

The answers are complex. Even within the survivor advocacy sector there were competing voices with influential stakeholders staunchly advocating for sexual abuse only. But ultimately, the voices of Care Leavers were overpowered by stronger voices both in the media and by other private and public lobbying for an inquiry into sexual abuse and particularly clergy sexual abuse. In places, this debate has been interpreted as an anti-Catholic campaign but commentators both within the church and elsewhere have argued the political and civic necessity of state intervention in the processes used for the handling of child sexual abuse by clergy. The confluence of events over more than a decade built up a momentum that finally left the government no alternative but to intervene.

If CLAN’s political patron, Senator Claire Moore, is right in concluding that ‘the creation of a royal commission into sexual abuse is not the full extent of the support that people who went through institutional care need to have,’[91] then the question remains: what kind of support will bring them justice?

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Endnotes

[1] Sydney Morning Herald 19/11/2012: 1. ‘Almost every Australian voter backs Julia Gillard’s decision to establish a royal commission into the sexual abuse of children…:’ http://www.thepaperboy.com/australia/sydney-morning-herald/front-pages-today.cfm?frontpage=22743#sthash.1FuASk9Z.dpuf (retrieved 22/12/2012).

[2] Julia Gillard to James Luthy, President of CLAN, 18/11/2012 (Reference C12/4705).

[3] The messages are reproduced in the CLAN newsletter, The Clanicle, No 76, January 2013: 3.

[4] See www.clan.org.au: and The Clanicle, CLAN’s bi-monthly newsletter.

[5] In the first flush of the news, The Clanicle, No. 75, December 2012, devoted nine pages to messages of congratulations.

[6] Shurlee Swain (2014), History of Australian Inquiries Reviewing Institutions Providing Care for Children, prepared for the Royal Commission, October 2014. See also Olickj, (2007) The Politics of Regret (New York: Routledge); and Johanna Sköld (2013) Historical Abuse—A Contemporary Issue: Compiling Inquiries into Abuse and Neglect of Children in Out-of-Home Care Worldwide, 2013, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention. Linköping University Post Print online at informaworldTM: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14043858.2013.771907 (accessed 21/1/2014).

[7] Johanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (eds.) Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in ‘Care’: International perspective, Palgrave Macmillan, London: 17.

[8] Johanna Sköld (2013) Historical Abuse.

[9] Human Rights Commission (1997) Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families; Senate of Australia.

[10] Senate of Australia (2001) Lost Innocents: Righting the Record – Report on child migration.

[11] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. See also Senate of Australia (2009) Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited: Report on the progress with the implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Reports.

[12] Fred Powell & Margaret Scanlon (2015) Dark Secrets of Childhood: Media, power, child abuse and public scandals, Policy Press, University of Bristol: 193.

[13] See Jacqueline Z Wilson & Frank Golding (2015) ‘Contested Memories: Caring about the past – or past caring?’, in Johanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (eds.) Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in ‘Care’: International perspective, Palgrave Macmillan, London: 27-41.

[14] Senator Andrew Murray, Opening the CLAN Office in Bankstown, Sydney, 6/3/2004: a prominent member of the Senate Committee and currently a Commissioner for the Royal commission.

[15] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians (2004): xv.

[16] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians (2004): 243.

[17] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 65. The Government’s response had been issued on 10/11/2005.

[18] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 66.

[19] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 225.

[20] Julia Gillard to James Luthy, President of CLAN, 18/11/2012 (Reference C12/4705).

[21] The Hon. Kevin Rudd, MP http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/national_apology/index (retrieved 22/1/2014).

[22] The Hon Malcolm Turnbull – as above.

[23] Simon Cullen, ‘Supreme Court judge to head abuse royal commission’, ABC News, 11/1/2013 at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-11/gillard-announces-terms-of-reference-for-abuse-royal-commission/4461104 (retrieved 12/1/2013).

[24] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[25] Prime Minister’s Media Release, ‘Government formally establishes Royal Commission’, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2F2164343%22 (retrieved 11/1/2013).

[26] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[27] Joanna Sköld (2015) ‘Apology politics: transnational features’ in Joanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (2015) Apologies and the Legacy: 24.

[28] Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report, Canberra: 99.

[29] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 102.

[30] CLAN Oral Submission to the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse 27/3/2015.

[31] http://www.clan.org.au/reference/united-nations (retrieved 1/2/2015).

[32] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 5-6.

[33] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 5.

[34] Royal Commission, Redress and Civil Litigation Report, Canberra, 2015: 102.

[35] Frank Brennan (2014) The contours of an extended child abuse royal commission Eureka Street, Vol. 24. No. 12 2/7/2014 http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=41650#.Vr6rC8cQhwd (retrieved 5/7/2014).

[36] Senator The Hon George Brandis QC Attorney-General & The Hon Christian Porter, Minister For Social Services, Joint Press Release, ‘Developing a National Approach to Redress for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse’ 29/1/2016.

[37] Royal Commission, Letters Patent.

[38] Compare the Ryan Commission in Ireland where an institution ‘includes a school, an industrial school, a reformatory school, an orphanage, a hospital, a children’s home and any other place where children are cared for other than as members of their families’.

[39] Royal Commission (2015) Redress & Civil Litigation, Table 11: 121-22. While the published data is up to March 2015, I am informed by royal commission officers that the trends in the data since that time have not changed (Personal communication, Sally Grimley-Ballard 22/2/2016).

[40] Personal communications at various CLAN meetings and social media.

[41] Swain (2014) History of Australian Inquiries: 4.

[42] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians: 410).

[43] In the chapter dealing with child maltreatment in Forgotten Australians (2004) just 7 of 110 paragraphs were devoted to sexual assault; while in the Child Migrants Report (2001), of the relevant 136 paragraphs, only 21 dealt with sexual abuse.

[44] Senate of Australia, (2004) Forgotten Australians submission 141. See also submission 311.

[45] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Child protection Australia: 2012–13, Child Welfare series no.58. Cat. no.CWS 49. Canberra: AIHW, 2014, p. 73-4.

[46] Fred Powell & Margaret Scanlon (2015) Dark Secrets of Childhood: 191.

[47] Swain (2014), History of Australian Inquiries: 11.

[48] Senate of Australia, (2004) Forgotten Australians: 241.

[49] Royal commission (2014), Interim Report Vol. 1: 27.

[50] Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), Child Migrants Trust, Historic Abuse Network, and International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families.

[51] Bravehearts and Broken Rites.

[52] Bravehearts (2012) submission on the Terms of Reference of the Royal Commission: 7-8.

[53] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[54] Ronald Niezen (2013). Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. Toronto, University of Toronto Press. I am grateful to Stephen Winter for drawing attention to Niezen’s work.

[55] For example: A. Foster, Reframing public discourse on child abuse in Australia. Child Abuse Prevention Newsletter v. 13 no. 1 Summer 2005 14-16; Chris Goddard and Bernadette J. Saunders (2001) Child abuse and the media, NCPC Issues No. 14, June. (https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-media accessed 21/1/2015); J. Kitzinger (2004) Framing abuse : media influence and public understanding of sexual violence against children, London : Pluto; Lonne B and Gillespie K (2014) How do Australian print media representations of child abuse and neglect inform the public and system reform? Child Abuse and Neglect Vol. 38 No. 5 May: 837-850; Lonne B and Parton N (2014) Portrayals of child abuse scandals in the media in Australia and England : impacts on practice, policy, and systems. Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 38 No. 5 May: 822-836.

[56] Roel Verschueren (2013) International sexual abuse literature list http://www.verschueren.at/literatuurlijst_seksueel_misbruik_4.htmlOthers (Retrieved 7/12/2014).

[57] Ronald Niezen (2013). Truth and Indignation: 32.

[58] Transcript of media conference Julia Gillard, 12/11/2012.

[59] Ray Cassin, The unknown unknowns of the sexual abuse royal commission, Eureka Street, 13/1/ 2013.

[60] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 12ff.

[61] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 3-4.

[62] Patrick Parkinson (2014) Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches: A Story of Moral Failure? The Smith Lecture, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 26 No. 1, July.

[63] Royal Commission (2015) Case Study 35 Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, November 2015

Opening Address, 24/11/2015: 4.

[64] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 3-4.

[65] Alan Howe, ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’, Herald-Sun, Melbourne, 18/4/2012, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/lets-hound-evil-catholic-clergy/story-fn56avn8-1226040600013 (Retrieved 19/10/2012).

[66] ‪Case Study No. 8, Sydney, http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/a0204352-4103-452c-b2cb-7cc69476d122/Report-of-Case-Study-no-8 (Retrieved 2/3/2015).

Case Study No. 16, August 2014. http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/791fd480-ba30-45bc-ba79-cbad85f27023/case-study-16,-august-2014,-melbourne (Retrieved 11/11/2014).

Case Study No. 28, http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/860eabc6-e0fc-453a-b9d4-51a89852fede/case-study-28,-may-and-november-2015 (retrieved 29/12/2015).

Chrissie Foster with Paul Kennedy, Hell on the Way to Heaven: An Australian Mother’s Love – The Power of the Catholic Church, and a Fight for Justice over Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney, Random House, 2010.

Conor Duffy and Paul Kennedy, ‘Bishop undermines Foster’s call for justice’, Lateline ABC TV 16/7/2008http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2008/s2305932.htm (Retrieved 2/12/2015).

Alan Howe, Herald-Sun, Melbourne, 18/4/2012, ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/lets-hound-evil-catholic-clergy/story-fn56avn8-1226040600013 (Retrieved 19/10/2012).

[67] Marr (2013: 68).

[68] Francis Sullivan, CEO Truth Justice and Healing Council, The Royal Commission and the unique challenges for the Catholic Church, Blackfriars Lecture Series, Australian Catholic University, 20/10/2015.

[69] The Australian 19/11/2012.

[70] Transcript of interview with Marius Benson, ABC News Radio, 3/4/2013

[71] Transcript of media conference Julia Gillard, 12/11/2012.

[72] Frank Brennan, Church-state issues and the Royal commission, Eureka Street, 24/10/2013. http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=38423#.Vr67CccQhwc (accessed 25/10/2013).

[73] Frank Brennan, ‘Church-state issues and the Royal commission’, Eureka Street, 03 September 2013.

[74] See e.g. Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee (2013) Betrayal of Trust: Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations, Vol. 1: 155-156.

[75] Brisbane Courier Mail, 1/5/2003.

[76] ‘Labour believes it is now in the best interests of the welfare of Australia’s children that the Prime Minister hold a Royal Commission into child abuse’, joint statement by Federal Opposition Minister Simon Crean and Shadow Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, (13 May 2003).

[77] ‘Democrats Renew Call For Royal Commission On Child Abuse’, Australian Politics.com 23 May 2003 at http://australianpolitics.com/news/2003/05/03-05-23b.shtml (accessed 21/11/2015).

[78] Josh Gordon & Catherine Armitage ‘Jeff Kennett warned Pell to deal with abuse’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28/3/2014.

http://www.smh.com.au/national/jeff-kennett-warned-pell-to-deal-with-abuse-20140327-35lrw.html#ixzz3yPF1QQer (accessed 28/3/2014).

[79] Parliament of Victoria, Family and Community Development Committee, Transcript, 27/5/2013.

[80] See for example, ABC Television Four Corners, The Homies, 18/8/2003 at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2003/transcripts/s926706.htm (Retrieved 21/12/2014). Bad blood existed between the Army and Care Leavers who went public: a letter to the author from John Dalziel, Manager Public Relations Salvation Army 22/4/2004: ‘Obviously we are not welcome by CLAN, we do not respect them and their attitude to us is one of hatred.’ See also Royal Commission (2015) Report of Case Study No. 5: 66ff.

[81] Noel Howard, The Ryan Report (2009): A practitioner’s perspective on implications for residential child care, Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies, Vol. 12(1), 2012: 38. The Ryan Report Ryan, S. (2009). Commission to inquire into child abuse report (Volumes I – V). Dublin: Stationery Office.

[82] David Marr, The Prince: Faith, abuse and George Pell, Quarterly Essay, No. 51, 2013: 2.

[83] Philip Cummins (Chair), Dorothy Scott & Bill Scales, Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, Department of Premier & Cabinet, Melbourne, January 2012, Cummings Vol. 2: 356.

[84] Parliament of Victoria, Family and Community Development Committee, Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non Government Organisations, November 2013. The Terms of Reference were published in the Victorian Government Gazette, 17/4/2012. http://www.gazette.vic.gov.au/gazette/Gazettes2012/GG2012S125.pdf (accessed 31/12/2013).

[85] Letter of Chief Commissioner Lay to the Victorian Parliamentary Committee, 2/9/2012. http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Submissions/Victoria_Police.pdf (accessed 6/12/2013).

[86] Malcolm Farr & Tory Shepherd, ‘Tony Abbott supports royal commission into child sex abuse’, The Australian, 12/11/2012. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/child-abuse-inquiry-needed-sooner-rather-than-later/story-e6frg6n6-1226515004476 (retrieved 13/11/2012).

[87] Special Commission of Inquiry concerning the investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations in the Hunter region. On 30 May 2014, the Commissioner delivered a four-volume report. The fourth volume of the report remain confidential at this time.

[88] A term used by Niezen, R. (2013). Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. Toronto, University of Toronto Press: 32.

[89] Father Frank Brennan, ‘Church-state issues and the Royal Commission’, Eureka Street, 3/9/2013.

[90] Royal Commission Interim Report, Vol. 1: 27. The tone of the media in 2012 can be assessed through these examples: Barney Zwartz, ‘Victims of clergy push for inquiry’, The Age, 9/2/2012; Hamish Fitzsimmons, (2 March 2012), ‘Church abuse victims demand Royal commission’, Lateline, ABC News, 2/3/2012 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-01/catholic-church-rape-victims-demand-royal-commission/3863566 (Retrieved 13/3/2012); Judy Courtin, ‘The Truth deserves a commission’, Sydney Morning Herald, 14/4/2012; Michael Short, ‘Hell on Earth’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25/6/2012; ‘Newcastle Catholic Bishop supports abuse inquiry’, ABC News. 26/7/2012. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-26/newcastle-catholic-bishop-supports-abuse-inquiry/4157078 Retrieved 28 July 2012.

[91] Senator Claire Moore, ALP Queensland, Senate Adjournment Debate, 8/7/2014.

Pell Faithful Rush to the Barricades Too Late

Jingle bells, Cardinal Pell.

An orchestrated campaign has been mounted in belated defence of Cardinal George Pell who told the Child Abuse Royal Commission at the last minute that he was too ill to fly to Australia to give vital evidence (here).  

There was wide-spread skepticism since it was widely known that he had flown to Australia earlier in the year. 

The signs of a pro-Pell campaign were there when Pell’s ideological mate, Gerard Henderson, ran a puerile – and manifestly ill-informed – essay in Murdoch’s The Australian pleading that ‘George Pell Should be Given a Fair Go at the Royal Commission’ (5/12/15).

A couple of days later it became clear that Pell had instructed his legal team to go in hard on witnesses in breach of the Catholic Church’s policy in Australia not to cross-examine victims or survivors. Pell instructed his barrister to put the acid on the credibility of key witnesses providing testimony harmful to Pell, especially David Ridsdale. The witnesses bravely withstood that attack. (Transcripts of cross-examination can be found here and media report here

Not by coincidence, The Australian then ran a snide attack on David Ridsdale which was clearly designed to damage his credibility. (John Ferguson, ‘Pell accuser indecently assaulted boy in bushland outside Ballarat’, The Australian, 21/12/2015.) Ferguson must have been delivering Christmas cheer to the dioceses when he learned that:

Senior church figures are privately furious that David Ridsdale’s past, which is widely gossiped about in Ballarat, has been ignored in reports of the commission’s hearings.

The Murdoch press will surprise us all if they have the integrity to publish a supplementary article describing the fury of ‘senior church figures’ about the failure of Father John Thomas Walsh, to reveal when he was giving evidence to the Royal Commission, that years ago he sexually abused a young seminarian, John Roach. That news was broken by the ABC weeks after Father Walsh gave evidence in support of George Pell, a former housemate. (More)

Father Walsh was one among many ‘senior church figures’—an archbishop, several bishops, vicars general, priests and various members of curia and personnel advisory committees—who performed very poorly before the Royal Commission this month in its examination of the handling of child sexual abuse in Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat.

Anyone sitting in the public gallery of the Commission during those hearings would have been appalled at the testimony of this parade of Catholic leaders and the way it was dragged out of them .

Bit-by-painful bit they confessed that

  • there were cover-ups and priests were quietly moved from parish to parish because they were raping children and the church was protecting them;
  • crimes were not referred to the police;
  • the Vatican had issued orders to keep all sex abuse matters hush hush
  • the abused children, who should have been the focus of their response, were not believed and then neglected;
  • they were remorseful and ashamed to learn of all the evil crimes against vulnerable children.

As Dr Judy Courtin pointed out, however, at the end of all that damaging evidence, none of these senior Catholic officials would accept personal responsibility. The script was obviously rehearsed. ‘George Pell: the Catholic Church’s performance at the royal commission is farcical’ (The Age 15/12/15 here

To a man, to apply that term loosely, they were keen to place the blame on the dead – Archbishop Frank Little or his predecessors or Vicar General
 Gerald Cudmore – or those who are too ill (or said to be too ill) to give evidence, such as former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns. But not Cardinal George Pell. He was shielded, sometimes quite unconvincingly – and possibly to his detriment ultimately.

The script continued. In Courtin’s words:

Apparently, these once revered and powerful pillars of the Church were so dictated by secrecy and confidentiality, that, for decades, they spoke not a word about their fellow clergy colleagues – the serious sex offenders.

These powerful clergy who advised Little and Mulkearns claimed they knew nothing of the sex crimes. Or if they did know what Little and Mulkearns clearly knew, they had no power to do anything about it. Meekly, they confessed, they were intimidated, fearful or felt they had a higher duty to the Church. Thus are men of power in the church reduced to moral impotence.

In this context, another Pell mate, ex-Senator and ex-Ambassador to Italy Amanda Vanstone leapt up to the barricades. In her bold as brass piece, ‘In Defence of George Pell’,  (Fairfax press 21/12/2015) she asserted that “The cardinal has become a lightning rod for hatred.” She told stunned readers that the campaign against her friend was just a matter of animal pack-hunting instinct. His many detractors were “braying for blood”. Read more if you have the stomach for it.)

The public response to Vanstone’s misdirected assertions showed that such deflections won’t work. This letter to The Age from Leonie Sheedy of CLAN (Care Leavers Australasia Network) was one among many who put her right:

… Care leavers are not looking for the blood of Cardinal Pell, as Amanda Vanstone has stated… Care leavers are simply seeking the truth. They deserve, after all these years, clarity of the lack of action taken by all institutions; they deserve to see certain individuals made accountable for their lack of action or revolting actions. Most importantly, care leavers want and deserve justice.

Vanstone states that Pell is a man who fights for what he believes, well so do all the individuals who have suffered from the lack of action taken by the Church to deal with these perpetrators. We hope Cardinal Pell recovers from his illness and can tell his side of the story at the royal commission in February; he has been silent for far too long and the Australian people deserve the truth.

Judy Courtin had already made the point that Vanstone completely misses: that it is the truth and its acknowledgement that the Royal Commission is pursuing, not a Cardinal’s blood. That being the case, a two-way exchange of the truth is required.

Not only do victims want to tell their own story and have that acknowledged by the hierarchy, it is paramount that the hierarchy tell the truth about the full extent of its cover-up of the sex crimes and protection of the clergy sex offenders. The commission is very successfully addressing the first element. The second element, though – and not for lack of trying and perseverance – is not occurring. This is resulting in ongoing harm and injury to victims and their families.

Another commentator, Rob Cover, reinforced the point that the Royal Commission is not a witch-hunt or Pell-bashing; it’s a public inquiry into the failure of church leadership.

As such it will necessarily involve discussion about the leaders of the Catholic Church including George Pell and other bishops and archbishops.

(Rob Cover, ‘The scandal of defending George Pell: Amanda Vanstone’s moral support’, On Line Opinion, 23/12/2015, here)     

The Royal Commission has generated an immense public response—and Pell is bearing a lot of the weight of that response. This is not because Pell is a hated figure—though he does himself no great credit much of the time—but because vocal advocacy groups and the public at large are alarmed at the sheer scale of clergy sexual abuse,  its callous mismanagement and the overwhelming weight of evidence about the very serious life-long effects, even life-destroying, effects of child abuse.

Notwithstanding Pell’s mates, The Royal Commission may well yet refer some matters to the police or other relevant authorities. As Courtin explains, getting to the truth and acknowledging it is only part of the business of the Commission.

[C]riminal accountability of the hierarchy for concealing sex crimes is an equally crucial element of justice that was identified in my research. Despite this, there has not been one conviction of any member of the Catholic hierarchy in Australia for concealing clergy sex crimes (although one priest and one archbishop have been charged).

If there is any moral panic around the activities of the Royal Commission, maybe it is panic among the church hierarchy and among Pell’s mates that more charged will be made.

Just before Christmas this year, the Chair of the Royal Commission reports that

Since the Royal Commission began, I have referred over 760 matters to authorities, mostly to the police. This has resulted in a number of arrests and charges. Many police investigations have been instituted. (More here).

Jingle bells.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blame the Victims for Child Sexual Abuse

This is an important update on a blog first posted on 8 July 2015.  

It concerned an outrageous claim made by the Parenting Research Centre and the University of Melbourne in a ‘research’ report called, ‘Scoping review: Evaluations of out-of-home care practice elements that aim to prevent child sexual abuse’.

The report was commissioned by – and published (February 2015) on the website of – the Royal Commission into the Institutional Handling of Child Sexual Abuse. More to the point, Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission used the outrageous claim in her opening address on 10 March 2015 at the outset of the public hearing into ‘out-of-home care

The major focus of preventing child sexual abuse in out of home care should be on efforts to prevent child to child sexual abuse rather than caregiver child sexual abuse, since this type of abuse likely represents the vast majority of observed child sexual abuse in out of home care.

This false assertion was not backed up by reputable research evidence. Senior Counsel had been badly advised by the Commission’s researchers who should have known better than to present such a sweeping allegation.

However, the claim was swallowed by some professional bodies who should have known better – and by the media, hungry for a headline. 

CLAN CEO Leonie Sheedy and I  met with one of the researchers and presented her and the Royal Commission with  a thorough analysis of the many flaws in the research report. While holding the line, the  researcher undertook to review the report. Negotiations followed.

The Royal Commission “temporarily removed” the  offending research report from its website “to address an error”.

Meanwhile, however, the damaging claim remained, unchallenged,  in the public arena. On 2 July, I wrote a  Letter to the Editor of The Age . 

Dear Editor

Paul Austin reports (The Age July 1) that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard that “in the majority of cases of abuse it is perpetrated not by adults, but by adolescents who are also in care”. This absurd proposition was indeed put to the Royal Commission, but there is absolutely no evidence to back it up. The facts clearly run the other way. You have to wonder at the motivation of those putting forward this slanderous allegation against children in ‘care’  – who of course have no right of reply. It diverts attention away from the adults, both those who are the perpetrators of abuse and those who are responsible for supervising what goes on in out-of-home ‘care’. 

Frank Golding, Vice-President Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN)

The Editor couldn’t find space for my 120 words in  defence of the kids whose voices are never heard. The media showed, once again, that it has little interest in backtracking over “yesterday’s news” even when they find they got it wrong.

However, after months of to-ing and fro-ing a few days ago, a revised version has finally been posted on the Royal Commission’s website. The revised report contains this preliminary notice.

The original version of this report contained an error. Specifically the report stated that the majority of child sexual abuse in out-of-home care was child-child sexual abuse. Though there is evidence to suggest that child-child sexual abuse in out-of-home care occurs at substantial levels, its prevalence has not yet been established.

The report has been revised to correct this inaccuracy and all research implications that were informed by this inaccurate statement.

The authors note, since publication of the original report, the release of the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People’s report ‘…as a good parent would…’(August 2015). This report also discusses the sexual exploitation of children in out-of-home care and highlights a range of possible perpetrators including but not limited to abuse perpetrated by carers and other children within the placement.

You can see a copy of the revised report here or by following this link.

Evaluations-of-out-of-home-care-practice-elements

The tenor of the changes can be seen in comparing the initial February 2015 version at page 7: 

The major focus of preventing CSA in OOHC should be on efforts to prevent child–child sexual abuse rather than caregiver–child sexual abuseThe vast majority of CSA in OOHC currently appears to occur at a child-child level. Therefore, additional efforts to prevent CSA should have a greater focus on child-child CSA. (my underlining).

with the revised report November 2015 version:

A major focus of preventing CSA in OOHC should be on efforts to prevent child–child sexual abuse. While the prevalence of CSA in OOHC is yet to be consistently and rigorously measured, a substantial proportion of CSA in OOHC appears to be child-child sexual abuse. The different nature of this type of maltreatment (peer rather than caregiver perpetration) means that additional, and likely different, efforts to prevent CSA should be undertaken to prevent all types of CSA in OOHC (my underlining).

 

A Mother 12 Storeys High with a Letterhead

Is fact stranger than fiction? Comments on Ginger Briggs, Staunch, Affirm Press, Melbourne, 2012.

I was so stirred up by this disturbing book that instead of placing it with my regular short reviews of books (here) I wanted to make a closer examination of this fascinating work.

Ginger Briggs, Staunch (Affirm Press)
Ginger Briggs, Staunch (Affirm Press)

On face value, Staunch is a novel, based on a true story. But Ginger Briggs calls it ” a work of non-fiction about real people”. She writes, “Everything that happens to Andy in Staunch happened to the real Andy”. 

We learn that Andy  was ‘relinquished’ at birth,  and was ‘divorced’ from his adoptive parents at 10. His father was a violent drunk, his adoptive mother severely depressed. Andy was one of those ‘pass-the-parcel’ kids whose predominant childhood experience  was rejection and abandonment.

Inevitably, he became a ward of the state, and then with the State of Victoria as his parent, he spent an abusive adolescence in foster homes, Homes and finally  penal institutions including adult gaols.

As a ward of state, his teens were years of deep insecurity, abuse and self-abuse, leading to a cycle of self-destruction through drugs, addiction and petty crime. The one person who had any love for Andy was Mary O’Brien, a Ballarat youth worker – a ‘mother’ figure he could trust and the only hope of happiness and a positive future.  

I won’t spoil it by revealing any more of the narrative, but suffice it to say that when Briggs goes on to say, “But the real Andy’s life was far more chaotic , and more grimly repetitive”, I had to say it would be hard to imagine how anything more destructive could have befallen him in his devastating 21 years.

This book could be slotted into the category of creative non-fiction. The question is why dress it up that way? Why does Ginger Briggs (to use her own words) “mess up”  events and characters  when she does very little to disguise the main characters and events? Why not a straight story? After all there’s no shortage of facts – and the author has been diligent in her research.

In her defence, she is a writer first and foremost – not an historian or psychologist.  She has crafted the narrative to make the most of the tension inherent in the events and characters. And her creation of real-life teenage junkie grunge and spiralling desperation  is brilliant. 

But, for me, there was a certain level of dissatisfaction too.  We know –  because she tells us – that Mez is based on a real person, Mary O’Brien. And what a wonderful caring person she is. We know also that institutions such as Wakma (Warrawee) and Ironside (Turana) are real places thinly disguised. What would be lost by the use of real names and places?

Wakma, aka Warrawee Reception Centre at 28 Victoria Street Ballarat
Wakma, aka Warrawee Reception Centre at 28 Victoria Street Ballarat

In an Author’s Note at the end of the book, Briggs explains and confirms quite a deal of what we have already guessed. She changed the name of Mary O’Brien (to Mez) because she “invented some key elements of her story”.  I interpret that to mean she used her license as a writer to tweak some parts of Mary’s story.

Briggs explains that Sylvia is really Kim Williams who lives in Scotland. Another friend, Spinner, is a fusion of three people – one died of an overdose, the second had gone incognito and the third was in prison.

Briggs tracked down the abusive social worker, Nigel Hayes, (like Briggs, I need to watch my words carefully) who is said to have groomed and sexually abused Andy and supplied drugs to other boys in exchange for sex. Unfortunately but understandably, Briggs did not supply his real name (authors have to live too!). He is said to be known to the police in Ballarat but has never been charged. 

I am left with nagging questions. What if the book had been written as a factual account (even retaining the pseudonym Nigel Hayes)? Would police have made more strenuous efforts to investigate the  allegations of sexual abuse and supplying drugs to minors? To interrogate surviving witnesses? To call to account his employers in allowing him to take young boys to his house alone for the weekend?

Nevertheless, this is a powerful, graphic and convincing account of how young lives can be utterly destroyed in a system that places so little value on the safety and welfare of young people who, through no fault of their own, cannot live with their own parents. 

Briggs concludes that she has not come up with any answers to the many questions underpinning this book. But she has learned and shares with us two fundamental truths.

First, “kids need love and family – of whatever stripe – to thrive and grow.”  And, in Andy’s case only one person, Mary O’Brien, was able to give him love consistently. But she was in no position to supply a substitute family. Her employment position and the circumstances she was in wouldn’t allow it.

Second, the state can never be a good parent. Who wants a mother  who is “cumbersome, impersonal, bureaucratic, twelve storeys high and has a letterhead”

To which she might have added: What kind of parents – with or without a letterhead – would be so derelict in their duty to a vulnerable young boy, or any child, that they could employ a paedophile to use and abuse him for his own gratification?  And what sort of parents would have no interest in checking from time to time whether all was well?

What kind of parents would put a young boy in an institution where hard drugs went hand in hand with the toxic culture of sexual and physical abuse? And could not see to the very things he needed – love and affection, a decent education and enlightened supervision?

What kind of system has no understanding or concern  that its ‘care’ institutions pave the way for vulnerable young persons to be locked up in cells  in adult  prisons where drug habits and other criminal behaviour are learned and reinforced – and young lives are ruined? 

Highly recommended. But take care: there are events in this book that will wrench your guts.

 

Blame the Kids in ‘Care’

The absurd claim that the “vast majority” of sexual abuse in out-of-home ‘care’ is perpetrated by other children is being recycled as an accepted truth by people who should know better – and by some who do know better.

The media picked up the “vast majority” reference made by Senior Counsel of the Royal Commission who had been baldy and badly advised by the Commission’s researchers.  No retraction has yet been forthcoming from the Royal Commission but at least it has “temporarily removed” the  offending research report “to address an error”.

By contrast, the media show little interest in backtracking over “yesterday’s news”

Here’s my Letter to the Editor of The Age (July 2). You see it here first, since the Letters Editor couldn’t find space for my 120 words in  defence of the kids whose voices are never heard.

Dear Editor

Paul Austin reports (The Age July 1) that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard that “in the majority of cases of abuse it is perpetrated not by adults, but by adolescents who are also in care”. This absurd proposition was indeed put to the Royal Commission, but there is absolutely no evidence to back it up. The facts clearly run the other way. You have to wonder at the motivation of those putting forward this slanderous allegation against children in ‘care’  – who of course have no right of reply. It diverts attention away from the adults, both those who are the perpetrators of abuse and those who are responsible for supervising what goes on in out-of-home ‘care’. 

Frank Golding, Vice-President Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN)

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?