Historic Child Abuse Not Consigned to History’s Garbage Bins

Child Sexual Abuse has not been consigned to the garbage bins of history.

In an opinion piece in a Sydney paper today, Claire Harvey rightly takes umbrage at a statement made to the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse last week by the former Principal of the prestigious Knox Grammar School in Sydney where sexual abuse was rampant under his watch.

(‘Time to end the lies because they knew child abuse was wrong,’ The Sunday Telegraph, March 08, 2015, here)

Dr Ian Paterson AO, the morally-blind Principal, said he didn’t realise at the time that what was happening was abhorrent:

“I accept that decisions I made were wrong and that I failed to recognise and hence respond sufficiently to events that we now know were indicators of a sinister and much bigger picture, the picture of serious sexual abuse that would damage the lives of so many.”

“I don’t buy it, says Harvey. “He knew it was wrong. Everyone knew.”

 I agree – and the same is true of sexual abuse of the most vulnerable of all children – those who were abused in orphanages and children’s Homes after being placed in the ‘care’ of the State for protection.

Sexual assault against children was wrong then; it is wrong now; it will be wrong in the future. There can be no moral amnesty on crimes against children placed in the care of the State – it is no excuse that it happened a long time ago. 

I am reminded of the Victorian Government’s submission to the Australian Senate’s Forgotten Australians Inquiry (2003-04). The government shamelessly came up with the proposition that it was all a matter of the circumstances of times past.

In the past, some children were abused and neglected while in care, and a larger number of children were subjected to standards of care which would not be considered adequate by today’s standards. However, it is also important to recognise that the people who cared for children in the past, either in children’s homes or in their own homes, generally did so as well as they could in the circumstances of the times, and that auspice organisations for children’s homes and foster care programs generally sought to provide the type of care which they believed to be best.

Past tense for times past. We do things differently now is the implication – but they are fools who believe their own propaganda.

Claire Harvey helps propagate that ‘feel-good’ delusion:

The difference today is that children have rights, and are heard. That’s why I think we’re lucky to live in 2015. It’s probably a better time today to be a child in Australia than ever before. Children’s dignity is respected. And adults can no longer hide behind feigned ignorance.

The inference that child abuse is consigned to the garbage bins of history is either naïve or mischievous. There are any number of reliable reports, and conclusive evidence, showing that rape and sexual assault continues in out-of-home ‘care’ today.

For example, in his Own motion investigation into Child Protection – out of home care (May 2010) the Ombudsman in the State of Victoria, Australia, reported that:

My investigation has found instances of children who have:

– been physically and sexually assaulted by foster and kinship carers

– had limbs broken or been knocked unconscious by residential carers

– been physically assaulted or raped by other children

– been placed with adult ‘friends’ who have then engaged them in sexual acts

– engaged in prostitution while in care

– reported their carers selling drugs to other children.

The sexual exploitation of young people in the out of home care system has also been identified as a significant issue, with incident reports identifying a group of children in out of home care who are involved in prostitution and sexual exploitation.

Furthermore, there is another sense in which it is reprehensible to suggest that it’s all behind us now. The survivors of sexual abuse do not think of their traumatic experiences as historical at all. Childhood abuse continues to scar the lives of scores of thousands of people who grew up in orphanages, children’s Homes and other forms of institutional ‘care’.

Their experiences continue to have very real, present, enduring impacts. It is no comfort, no consolation, to hear that things are managed better nowadays and that they should ‘move on’. Survivors will never ‘get over it’ until they see justice done.

And until they see strong measures in place to stop it happening to children today.

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