Evidence about the Jonathan Lord YMCA case continues at Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. A number of brave, strong, articulate mothers spoke about discovering their small boys had been abused by Jonathan Lord. Each one is the kind of mother, the kind of Australian, that makes this country great.
If most mothers were more like them, we would never have needed this Royal Commission, because the coverup, the secrecy, the willingness to sacrifice children to protect reputations, and the lax attitudes towards child safety, including jokes but no action about “kiddie fiddlers”, would never have taken hold in our culture.
I spoke privately to one of these inspirational mothers yesterday at the hearings. She talked of a generational change in parenting attitudes. I agree. My mother’s generation were all too willing not to question authority, especially religious authority, not to believe their children’s disclosures, or even the evidence of their own eyes.
Revered, powerful males were unquestionable. Religious of both sexes were untouchable. Children had no rights whatsoever.
Today, not so much.
As a mother of two boys of a similar age to Jonathan Lord’s victims, if I had the slightest suspicion, the tiniest inkling of anything or anyone harming my child, nothing, and I do mean nothing, would stop me from doing whatever it took to protect them. Or to help them recover.
But it’s not enough to rely on that change in attitudes. We need effective and comprehensive systems to ensure our children’s safety.
The courageous witness noted that just because the YMCA does a much better job with child safety than the Catholic Church, does not mean that what the YMCA does is good enough.
Which is why the Royal Commission’s investigation into these issues is desperately needed.
More issues continue to emerge about systemic problems that let our children down and leave them vulnerable to sexual exploitation by determined criminals.
As the numbers of boys disclosing grew, police, DoCS and the YMCA started to treat the later revelations of additional victims and additional offences as less relevant or even annoying.
What these organisations seem to forget is, even if the organisations are not as interested in subsequent information, once several victims had already come forward, to those directly involved as victims or parents of victims, this is the most devastating, critical, traumatic and vitally important element of their lives.
And that these victims and families all deserve the very best of support to help them through such a difficult time and to improve the long term prospects for all involved, particularly the innocent kids.
For example, once the police had enough evidence to proceed to arrest on the basis of a number of victims and a number of crimes, officers weren’t particularly interested to have to stop their other work to interview new victims. But every single victim deserves to have their story heard and to have the offender held responsible specifically for the crimes against them.
This is a common problem, with most of Australia’s prolific repeat offenders only ever brought to trial for a fraction of their victims and a minute fraction of their actual offending. This is one of many reasons for completely inappropriate sentencing decisions for these crimes in Australia. And is even more worrying in light of the fact that less than 1% of child sexual abuse cases even make it as far as conviction.
Families were also kept in the dark by many organisations, especially the YMCA, about what was going on, severely impacting their ability to properly support the child victims, which should have been the top priority.
Initially, parents were told Jonathan Lord was simply on annual leave, or not told who was the subject of the police investigation, removing parents’ ability to ascertain whether their child was affected by these crimes and thus offer support as soon as possible.
This is appalling.
Even worse, Jonathan Lord, after being arrested then released on bail, kept offending.
The secrecy must have been a factor in allowing this to happen. If the community was informed, parents would have been able to protect their children from serious further harm. This is also not a unique occurrence. Child sex offenders, often well respected and prominent members of the community, are frequently released on bail, despite being a significant flight risk and a significant danger to the community. In so many ways, the reputations and privacy of child sex criminals throughout Australia are vigorously protected at the cost of undermining child safety and inflicting additional suffering on victims.
Hopefully the revelations resulting from this Royal Commission will remind the Commissioners, our politicians, individuals and institutions that every extra offence carves additional severe trauma into a child’s broken heart, even if the child has lost count because of the already large number of sexual assaults they have suffered.
We all need reminding that the constant terror of facing an unending future of additional assaults for years on end irreparably damages a child’s psychological development. And the knowledge that no-one will act to stop the offending, especially if adults are known to be aware of what is going on, exponentially increases this harm.
We all need reminding that every additional victim is a precious life possibly destroyed, another family ripped apart by tragedy, perhaps irrevocably.
The good news is many of Jonathan Lord’s victims have wonderfully supportive parents doing everything possible to help them recover, and for some, their prognosis is hopeful. They have a good chance of reaching their potential, and enjoying a normal life free from the dark shadow of ongoing trauma.
The reason they will likely do so much better than many other victims of child sexual abuse is because they were able to see firm action taken by powerful adults to rescue them from their attacker and hold him accountable for his crimes. And because they are receiving early and, hopefully, ongoing counseling assistance as needed. They will certainly all need watching for the next few decades (not just till the age of 18) to identify if long term impacts of their abuse emerge and to ensure they receive appropriate and timely support.
This encouraging outcome illustrates that sexually abused kids do not have to suffer terribly throughout their lives and die early, unable to stand the pain of living.
This is not an outcome that has ever been an option, and is still not an option, for victims of Catholic clergy sexual predators.
Personally I look forward to the day the Royal Commission understands that not only does the Catholic Church enable and coverup the widespread and systemic sexual abuse of children, not only does it severely re-abuse sexually abused children through a cruelly self serving response to these crimes, but that this dysfunctional institution and the sociopaths who run it are also directly responsible for the tragic deaths of far too many of our doubly abused kids.
And I look forward to the day the Royal Commission recommends the Australian Government takes appropriate action for the first time in history.
Stay safe everyone.