Voiceless Victim

A survivor of clergy child sexual abuse speaks out for those who can't speak for themselves

Category Archives: Royal Commission public hearings

Catholic church opens Commission hearing with a slap in the face for survivors

Last week survivors, many of whom had travelled long distances, crowded into the hearing room for the historic first Royal Commission hearing into how the Catholic Church handles child sexual abuse. Many lasted only until the well paid Church lawyer first opened his mouth. What emerged was so offensive, so deliberately designed to undermine and to harm survivors, that it prompted a mass walkout and a flood of tears in the foyer.

I absolutely agreed with their actions and was equally as offended, but decided to stay to hear what other tricks the trained monkey would pull.

Below is a transcript of that low point of the legal profession in Australia. I have added my translation of each section, for those who do not have the benefit of a lifetime of suffering at the hands of callous and deceitful church officials. The lawyer who uttered these carefully crafted passages was Peter Gray SC.

-o0o-

This is a searing and decisive moment in the history of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Well, we certainly never thought this day would happen, especially after all our efforts to prevent it.

The sacred place of children, their innocence and their trustfulness is central to the Christian tradition and to the Catholic faith.

The punters love this fantasy stuff about innocence and trust. It keeps the focus on what they like about religion, and not on our behaviour.

Many will remember from their own childhoods the ageless words from the Gospel of Mark:

First let me throw in the obligatory quote from the bible – takes the high moral ground immediately and undermines both victims themselves, and the tendency to support them.

Let the little children come to me; do not

stop them; for it is to such of these that

the kingdom of God belongs.

Isn’t that clever of us, taking the very quote seen so often on signs outside this and other hearings and using it against those pesky victims. Though of course we prefer a different translation, to avoid that unfortunate word, “suffer”.

And again from Mark, driving home the point:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who

believe in me to stumble, it would be

better for him if a great millstone were

hung around his neck, and he were cast into

the sea.

Now, if the first verse hasn’t slapped victims hard enough, here’s the second to really undermine them. Plus the millstone bit makes us look like we take this issue seriously.

The Catholic Church comes before this Royal Commission acutely aware of its failures in this fundamental part of its mission.

I guess denial is really no longer an option, is it?

For many Catholics, the realisation that some Catholic priests and religious, of all people, have betrayed the trust of children and their parents by abusing them in sexual ways has been almost unbearable.

Let’s get Catholics thinking about their own suffering and not that of victims.

 The further bleak realisation that such behaviour was sometimes covered up, with wrongdoers protected while victims were disbelieved or treated coldly, has made an already disgraceful situation even worse.

Oh yeah, these days we have to refer to this aspect as well, but we can get away with going pretty soft, because understanding of our cover-up is still limited.

For the vast majority of priests and religious, dedicated and selfless and innocent themselves and truly faithful to their vows and their vocations, the revelations of recent decades have been heartbreaking.

Pow. Two of our most effective excuses. “Good” priests, and non abuser priests as victims. We’re going hard on this because it is so effective at distracting from what happened to victims. And we get it in first to leave many minds less inclined to listen to rubbish about victims.

But for the victims and their families, the effects have obviously been, and continue to be, shattering and devastating. Terrible wrongs have been done to them.  Complex, ongoing damage has been caused, the real extent of which may not, even now, be fully appreciated.

We don’t usually go here because it creates sympathy for victims, not us. But if we want to pull off the “we have changed” con, it is unfortunately necessary to sound a bit better informed than previously on the effects of abuse.

 A great poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, found words which capture something of this nightmare:

No worst, there is none …

Comforter, where, where is your comforting?

Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

We position Hopkins as an authority, then use his quote to soften the facts of our criminal coverup, while demonstrating that we get this i.e. no further action needed.

I will say something in a moment about the way in which the church intends to participate in and contribute to the work of the Royal Commission.  But first, let me repeat the unequivocal commitment made by the leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia.  It is on page 1 of our written submission to the Commission.  It is in the following terms:

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia recognise and acknowledge the devastating harm caused to people by the crime of child sexual abuse.

Much as it hurts, we are going to have to state the bleeding obvious, which we have studiously managed to avoid doing until now.

We take this opportunity to state:

1.         Sexual abuse of a child by a priest or religious is a crime under Australian law and under canon law.

2.         Sexual abuse of a child by any church personnel, whenever it occurred, was then and is now indefensible.

3.          That such abuse has occurred at all, and the extent to which it has occurred, are facts of which the whole church in Australia is deeply ashamed.

4.         The church fully and unreservedly acknowledges the devastating, deep and ongoing impact of sexual abuse on the lives of the victims and their families.

5.         The church acknowledges that many victims were not believed when they should have been.

6.         The church is also ashamed to acknowledge that, in some cases, those in positions of authority concealed or covered up what they knew of the facts, moved perpetrators to another place, thereby enabling them to offend again, or failed to report matters to the police when they should have.  That behaviour, too, is indefensible.

7.         Too often in the past, it is clear, some church leaders gave too high a priority to protecting the reputation of the church, its priests, religious and other personnel, over the protection of children and their families, and over compassion and concern for those who suffered at the hands of church personnel. That, too, was and is inexcusable.

8.         In such ways, church leaders betrayed the trust of their own people and the expectations of the wider community.

The words stick in our throats, unused as we are to honesty on this topic, but that just shows how damaging and irresponsible those blasted victims really are, selfishly promoting their own interests, no matter the damage it causes the church.

 9.         For all these things the church is deeply sorry.  It apologises to all those who have been harmed and betrayed.  It humbly asks for forgiveness.

We’ve said sorry about this so many times. Once more through gritted teeth changes nothing. They can force us to say it but they can’t force us to mean it.

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia commit ourselves to endeavour to repair the wrongs of the past, to listen to and hear victims, to put their needs first, and to do everything we can to ensure a safer future for children.

We commit ourselves to nothing specific, just a lot of PR friendly concepts, all heavily qualified. Naturally, there is no means for anyone to measure success or even track if we actually do anything. The imbeciles fall for this one every time.

When this Royal Commission was announced, the leaders of the church – that is, the bishops and religious leaders from all around Australia – appreciated that this Commission would be, as it is, a watershed in church history and, indeed, in Australian history.  They realised that the issue of abuse within the church is so fundamental and so serious that at least three things needed to happen.

We knew this damn commission would be bad. That’s why we undermined all efforts to hold one for so many years.

First, the church must, wherever possible, speak with one voice at the Commission.

We need to tightly control the message. Individuals could say anything, even, God forbid, the truth.

Second, any of the old ways that still remained, shrouded in secrecy, defensiveness or damage control, must be renounced.

Yeah, the Vatican’s really going to let us break with the long tradition of coverup. I should be a stand up commedian.

Third, the church should seize the opportunity provided by the momentous circuit-breaker of the Royal Commission to renew itself, to look closely at the ways in which it has responded to the issue both in the past and up to the present time, and to do so with humility and openness and generosity of spirit.

If we really have to do this, we are going to bury some smelly old skeletons, and bury them deeeep. They’ll never come back to haunt us.

As to the second and third of these, time will tell, and the community will ultimately be the judge.

As time passes, everyone will forget about any commitments we make now.

As to the first, let me say something about the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.  The council was established in February this year by the peak body of bishops, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, known as the ACBC, and the peak body of religious, Catholic Religious Australia, known as CRA.  It is the council which will represent and speak for the many dioceses and religious institutes which have authorised it to do so.

The Catholic Church in Australia is not a single discrete entity or thing.  It is made up of people in complex and disparate groupings, the millions of lay people, as well as the priests and bishops and religious. There are some 34 dioceses and over 180 different religious orders and congregations.

Each individual diocese and each individual religious institute is basically autonomous and independent of every other.  For example, no archbishop or bishop has any authority or control over any other bishop.

Not surprisingly, to achieve a consensus amongst so many different and independent people and bodies and groupings has, in the past, often been difficult, but on this issue, that of the tragedy of child sexual abuse, differences of view have been put aside.

Good luck with finding anyone ultimately responsible, or tracing the chain of command. We have centuries of practice in dodging responsibility, amateurs.

The first major demonstration of that approach was the development of a uniform national protocol for responding to complaints of this kind.  I will say something about that shortly.

The second is that the Truth, Justice and Healing Council has been brought into existence.  Every diocese and well over 100 orders and congregations have authorised the ACBC or CRA to represent and act for them in the engagement of the church with the Royal Commission.

The ACBC and CRA have, in turn, delegated that authority to the council.

For practical purposes, therefore, the council will ordinarily speak for the whole church, its dioceses, its religious institutes, its priests and religious in the Royal Commission.  All of them are united in their support for the principles stated in the commitment which I reiterated at the beginning of these remarks.

Talk to the hand.

Let there be no doubt about the attitude and approach of the church to the work of this Royal Commission.  The church, through the council, intends to cooperate with the Commission fully, without reservation.

Of course, co-operation only applies to in front of the cameras. Behind the scenes we’ll fight as hard as ever to prevent the truth getting out.

Tens of thousands of documents have so far been produced from all around the country.  Witnesses have been and will be made available.  Bishops and archbishops and religious leaders will participate as the Commission may require.

We are going to bury you in paperwork and delay this baby till we can convince you that all the current office holders are too old or too dead.

The council’s aim is to do everything in its power to ensure that the Royal Commission has available to it from the church all the material that it needs for the work it seeks to do, so as to ensure that a light is shone on dark places and times and events – in the words of St Augustine nearly 2,000 years ago, to flood the path with light to ensure that nothing is concealed or covered up in respect of what church personnel did or failed to do, and so to give the victims and also the church itself a better chance to heal.  In that way, in the end, something good may be able to emerge from the awfulness and suffering which have occurred.  If it does, it will be the victims and their families who will have brought that about.

Another biblical reference. Another fine sounding but impossible to measure or assess PR objective. Don’t we sound like we are open and honest about this? All without actually having to be open and honest. Brilliant stuff.

Stay safe everyone.

VV

Coming soon: Part 2 – specific comments on the cases to be studied and Chair, Justice Peter McClellan, reprimanding Mr Gray for repeatedly trying to dictate to the Commission what to conclude.

Truth, Justice and Healing comes not from a Council but from a Commission

Survivors in Australia are waking up this week to a different world.

A world where those in positions of authority do not look the other way, shrug their shoulders and callously ignore the fact of the criminal child rape of children, the criminal coverup of those crimes and the ongoing re-abuse of the damaged adult survivors.

For decades or even longer parents, teachers, police, social workers, school principals, priests, bishops, cardinals, prosecutors, lawyers, judges, the media and, most of all, politicians have learnt or known of our suffering and did not care enough to do anything.*

Whether they thought it was not their place, or they would get in trouble for creating a scandal, or they would lose their job or social standing, or it could not be possible, or this issue was not allowed to be spoken about, or someone else would deal with it – they all left children to suffer horribly to save themselves discomfort.

And they got away with this dereliction of their duty of care, just as those who deliberately and cunningly plan and commit their crimes, and those who deliberately enable those crimes to continue, get away with their evil.

For so long we were silenced, no one spoke up for us and no one was held accountable.

Recently more and more survivors are speaking up and are being given more opportunities to do so.

But still we lack decisive, comprehensive action on this issue. The vast majority of these offenders and their protectors still slip through any protective measures with ease and are never stopped and never held accountable.

The criminals know they are still safe. And they act accordingly.

But they are not safe any longer.

Sitting in the hearing room of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in recent months I have been brought to tears many times as the realisation dawns that they are asking the right questions, they are determined to get the answers, and the information gathered will be used to develop truly effective recommendations. The tears are partly joy that the questions are being asked at last, and partly great sorrow at how much unnecessary suffering has been caused by not asking them earlier.

But this week there can no longer be any doubt.

As the smug paedophile protectors of the Catholic Church face the Commission for the first time, their facade of sincerity and their carefully crafted evasions, qualifications, diversions, excuses and misdirection are given the credibility they deserve. Absolutely none.

The CEO of the Untruth, Injustice and Denial of Healing Council, Frances Sullivan, sits smugly in the front row every day, and his lawyer offends most survivors in the room as soon as he opens his mouth. Church representatives, whether in front of TV cameras, in witness box or at bar table, make sure to say a lot of the right things, but we who understand them far better than we ever wanted, know they mean not a word of it. They still regard survivors speaking about our experiences as the problem to be dealt with. They don’t believe they have done anything deserving criticism. They still believe their way of doing things is just fine as it is, if only the biased media would focus on someone else for a change.

This week is the first time logic and brutal honesty has been applied in such strength and forensic detail to these experts in the low arts of obfuscation and mental reservation. And stripped of their protections of undue reverence and undeserved respect, they are revealed as less like moral leaders and much more like the immoral and often criminal cowards they truly are.

Hearing Justice Peter McClellan’s questions this week has brought me to the point where I can finally, for the first time in my life, relax and trust those in authority to do the job they were appointed to do.

I can see a possible future where campaigning for child protection and justice for survivors is not left to the survivors because those in power have neglected this issue so completely.

We are safe in Peter McClellan’s and Gail Furness’s hands, as we never were in the church’s.

We have been given what we asked for with this Royal Commission.

Fearless, committed, intelligent people who are not swayed by anyone’s claim of a special relationship with a supernatural being.

Let’s do all we can to help the Commission do its job.

Stay safe everyone.

VV

* There are notable exceptions, individuals, who did put children first and did take action. But the numbers and power of those determined to silence us, preferably permanently, overwhelmed and stymied their efforts.

Will the Royal Commission Use Its Teeth?

There have been a number of times when evidence before the Royal Commission’s public hearings has been conflicting. Confusing. Dodgy even.

But this week’s questioning of YMCA managers has uncovered what only the most naïve would consider to be anything other than direct and deliberate lies to the Commission.

Witnesses flatly contradicted the evidence of other witnesses, or of documents. One witness contradicted her own earlier sworn evidence taken in a private hearing. But in response to attempts to straighten out these inconsistencies and about-faces, they give the same, carefully rehearsed, defensively unco-operative evasive non answers.

Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness SC and Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan made it perfectly clear when they were frustrated by witnesses’ pretense of not understanding in order to avoid answering difficult questions. And they simply did not accept nonsensical assertions about how well this matter was handled in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

The carefully polite questioning occasionally slipped with these witnesses. Justice McClellan in particular showed his quiet anger when anyone arrogantly flaunted their contempt for both the powers of the Commission and the intelligence of those questioning them.

Some of these managers were emotionally shut down and avoidant, with their coldly defensive and self-righteous manner. They brushed aside, both verbally and with their body language, any suggestion they could have done anything in any way wrong.

Wrong things happened, certainly, but despite being in positions of responsibility, little or no responsibility – personally, as a management group, or as an institution – was admitted or accepted.

This attitude was maintained even when managers were questioned directly about their own or others’ lack of adherence to YMCA policies, lack of proper conduct of reference checks, lack of adequate supervision and training, and employees unable to report upwards their concerns about worrying behavior of a colleague.

The more junior YMCA staff witnesses last week were clearly distressed that they did not do more to follow up on feelings of something not right about Jonathan Lord’s interaction with the YMCA’s clients. They understood how they could have acted differently, how the situation could have been managed differently, and that as a result, children may have been saved from suffering. Not so the middle and senior managers, despite their far greater responsibility and ability to take effective action.

Those who have most to answer for in allowing Jonathan Lord unquestioned access to his favourite prey, not only deny there was a management problem, or any responsibility for the problem, but support and even promote each other.

Despite claims from YMCA about how seriously they take the issue of child protection, those responsible for what the Commission and an expert described as a clear failure of management have not analysed any problems with the management of their centres or sought to learn from those failures, and have not been put through intensive external training in management and child protection, but have instead been rewarded with even more senior, influential, strategic and no doubt financially lucrative positions.

Some of these managers have demonstrated such a dedication to protect certain individuals and the institution from the truth and from facing responsibility, such a lack of consideration for victims and neglect of the safety of children, that they could be considered ideally qualified to become Catholic bishops. Except, of course, some are in possession of the wrong set of genitalia.

This forensic examination of these managers’ actions shines a light on individuals who, like most catholic officials, are callous, defensive and self serving in their response to these horrific crimes. We can observe, even if we can’t understand, how they shut down their humanity, shut down any consideration of the innocent child victims and their shocked families, and of anything other than protecting themselves and their institution.

The question that must be asked of the Commissioners is, will there be any consequences for those who lie to the Commission?

Certainly many of the misleading or incorrect assertions made under oath were subjected to a detailed re-examination armed with sharp logic and strong evidence to the contrary, and most eventually resulted in a more truthful admission. But in some cases the witness simply refused to accept the truth.

If such behavior is rewarded by having no consequences, as long as a witness is able to maintain their fiction and refuse to admit to the truth, how will the Commission cope with all the complicit catholic religious and bishops, who have been given official Vatican encouragement to lie through their teeth via the policy of mental reservation, and have sworn an oath to protect the reputation of the catholic church, no matter what?

Especially dangerous are bishops and cardinals, who are expressly required, encouraged and rewarded for putting their loyalty to the church hierarchy in Rome and the pope in particular, above the law of the land. These princes of the church consider themselves to be doing the right thing, and even acting heroically, by thwarting the efforts of local law enforcement and other legal and judicial authorities.

Will the deceit of “I can’t recall”, “I don’t remember”, “to the best of my recollection”, “I was not aware at the time” and others be allowed to block access to the truth?

Or will witnesses be required to actually provide answers, rather than a confection of carefully rehearsed excuses, and legally directed evasive strategies?

November and December promise to be exceedingly interesting months.

Stay safe everyone.

VV

Sexually Abused Kids Don’t Have to Suffer All Their Lives and They Certainly Don’t Have to Die

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.

VV

AO is a hero and his mum AN is a hero too

Today the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard from the amazing mother of a child victim of the child sex offender, Jonathan Lord.

AN was the first witness in Case Study 2, which started today, into Lord and the YMCA, which employed, and then promoted him.

In measured tones, though occasionally struggling with her emotions, AN told of the experiences she and her son AO went through as a result of AO being targeted by Jonathan Lord.

But like so many of those put through this nightmare by powerful and well protected criminals, the trauma did not end with the arrest of Jonathan Lord.

AN clearly, intelligently and compassionately identified serious problems with how police dealt with these matters, serious problems with the law including the law of particularity which effectively denies victims access to justice, problems with inadequate or inappropriate support for victims and their families, especially in terms of access to counseling, and the lack of proper and compassionate communication with victims and their families.

She fought back tears as she read her statement. I bawled as I watched from home over the live feed. I wish I could have congratulated her in person but would have found being in the room and hearing her evidence very hard.

She also told how the Principal of her Catholic school was able to be supportive to her sexually abused child. I note that this is possible because in this case the Catholic Church was not responsible for enabling and protecting the offender.

Many other Catholic school principals will have some very hard questions to answer from the Royal Commission about their own, very different, actions.

But despite briefing everyone she could at the school about the support her child needed, the teachers ignored this and shut her child down when he, inevitably, disclosed about his abuse. This was not done as brutally as they usually silence the victims of Catholic religious, but still this response was completely inappropriate and likely to be damaging to AO, and hinder his recovery.

Luckily AO has AN to keep an eye on his progress and to speak up for him and demand changes when other adults demonstrate how poorly qualified or suited they are to hold positions of responsibility over children.

AN was strong, determined, angry where appropriate, took immediate and responsible action, sought professional help when needed, and communicated AO’s needs to the adults around him. Through all this, despite dealing with serious trauma of her own as a result of AO’s father’s suicide at this time, AN kept her focus firmly on AO’s needs.

How wonderful, and how unfortunately rare in such situations, to see an adult mature enough to put the child’s needs first.

I note here by comparison the horrifying detail that Jonathan Lord was promoted in gaining access to children by the efforts of his mother Jill Yankos, who was quite pushy in approaching and recommending young, vulnerable mothers use her paedophile son as a babysitter. Based on the evidence so far, it is impossible to judge whether this mother knew of her son’s criminal activities, but experience would suggest that we cannot just assume she did not.

I will end with a quote from the brave victim AO, who is still in primary school.

“My mum is a hero because she listened to me.”

How I wish my own mother had been even a little like AN. How different my life would have been.

AO has every chance to recover fully from his abuse thanks to his mum AN.

Vote 1 AN for Australian Mother of the Year.

Stay safe everyone.

VV

A Tale of Three Inquiries – Part 2 The National Royal Commission

Many hopes are pinned on the National Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to fill the massive gaps left by the narrow terms of reference of the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry, and the inadequate time and powers of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry.

This is the comprehensive national inquiry which will scoop up the evidence from the smaller inquiries, and we hope, consolidate and then finish the job.  We hope the Royal Commission will do the job thoroughly.  We hope the Royal Commission will create an effective national framework to hold those guilty of child sex crimes accountable, and deliver recommendations, which it will be up to State and National Governments to implement, to properly protect all of Australia’s children.

There are many who hope to prevent the truth coming out. Many reputations will be justifiably shredded. Many, particularly religious officials, and not just from the catholic church, should be in jail. They have a lot to lose and they will stop at nothing to thwart the efforts of this Royal Commission, despite fallacious statements of an intention to co-operate. It is up to all of us who have had direct experience relevant to this Commission, not just survivors, and are able to speak to the Commission either privately or publicly, to ensure it does not fail for lack of evidence. Both for our own sakes so we are no longer comprehensively and deliberately denied justice and healing, and also for those equally innocent children who come after us, who also do not deserve to suffer as we did and do.

I personally hope the Royal Commission will not stop till it gets to the true reasons why so many adults protect predators and sacrifice children. Why so many undermine our laws, our justice system, and the truth in order to defend the reputations of dangerous criminals, while sentencing thousands of their innocent victims to life, or death, sentences.

We cannot just dismiss this issue as the dark side of human nature, cannot ascribe all blame to the evil monsters who deliberately inflict such horrific crimes on the most vulnerable in society. The buck doesn’t even stop with the equally evil monsters who knowingly enable these crimes, knowingly thwart our laws and knowingly endanger large numbers of children.

These crimes, and so much suffering, could have been prevented if those who turned away and let it happen, who did not speak up, who did not challenge the bullies, who did not put the protection of children before what is expedient for their careers and their social standing, had instead reached inside and found their courage, and had defended the truth, instead of going along with what they knew or suspected were lies.

Organisations which put their own interests before the human rights of those whose lives they impact, and those responsible for implementing, scrutinising or policing their policies and processes, are also very much to blame for so much of the suffering we will hear about over the next few years.

I sincerely hope the Royal Commission finally understands that institutions where children are in the power of adults will inevitably attract those seeking to exploit that power. That we cannot trust anyone to be in unquestioned and unscrutinised authority over children or other vulnerable populations. We must not give anyone the “benefit of the doubt”. We must not enforce the “rights” of powerful adults while denying even the most basic human rights to defenceless children.

I hope the Commissioners will understand how corruption, criminality, undue influence, threats, mismanagement, self interest, political and departmental incompetence, inexperience, laziness and cowardice all betray children, even under well intentioned systems.  And at the other end of the spectrum, I hope they gain insight into how badly children fare under an overtly abusive system, such as those seen in many religious residential institutions, with up to 2,000 years experience of rewarding criminality, abuse of power and corruption, and treating the safety of children as unworthy even of consideration.

This week the Royal Commission began its first public hearing in front of all six Commissioners in its specially built hearing room in one of the most expensive office buildings in the Sydney CBD (or Australia for that matter).

The Commissioners would no doubt argue that their tough job extracting the truth from some very hardened and slippery criminals requires the overt appearance of power and authority. And for many religious criminals money certainly equals power.

However I am sure that most survivors would far prefer the millions spent on this location to have instead been channelled into appropriate and effective (not politically directed) ongoing support for survivors.

This first week is one of a number of case studies, looking at a specific case and touching on a number of organisations and issues. In the crosshairs this week was convicted sex offender Steve Larkins, and his time at Scouts Australia and Hunter Aboriginal Childrens’ Services.

The coverage of those organisations and issues was not comprehensive, and has already opened many new avenues of inquiry, and identified much additional evidence required by the Royal Commission. I hope the Commissioners were as horrified as I was to learn that Larkins had also been given unrestricted access to extremely vulnerable children at the notorious Kendall Grange, run by the paedophile Catholic order St John of God.

Before anyone complains that I cannot describe St John of God as a paedophile order, it is worth remembering a psychologist who worked with the order’s hundreds of child abuse victims  for many years concluded 75% of the order were the subject of child sex abuse allegations. What else do you call such a group? And why have the police and indeed the Royal Commission not made St John of God a number 1 priority for investigation? What sort of society do we live in when such a statistic can be made public knowledge, and no-one in a position of authority is disgusted that this paedophile order is still receiving generous tax breaks, still demands religious reverence and unquestioned authority, and is still making profits from the provision mental health and other services, and yet nothing is done about their many, many crimes, about their not being fit persons to hold the positions they do, and the danger they represent?

In addition to the standard collection of detailed evidence, it was a delight to see Counsel Assisting, Gayle Furness, and Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan ask deadpan and fairly obvious questions of those whose actions or lack of action created the perfect conditions where a dangerous child sex predator could continue to offend and which exposed an unknown number of innocent children to a lifetime of undeserved suffering.

Because so much of the reason why this problem has grown to the extent of a culture of child rape in Australia, is the habit of responsible adults to ignore, dismiss or turn their backs on this issue. To not take these crimes seriously, to not treat them with an appropriate sense of urgency, to not ensure they are addressed and do not fall through the cracks, to not properly investigate any suspicions, to rely on assumptions rather than evidence, and to not care about how damaging these crimes are and how much danger these offenders represent to children.

This week’s evidence showed that in the Hunter/Newcastle/Port Stephens region no-one questioned whether their actions or attitudes were appropriate or adequate responses to these crimes. Most just went along with the general neglect and general cover-up.

This week’s evidence revealed many didn’t act themselves because they relied on the erroneous assumption that the fatally flawed court and child protection systems were actually doing the job they were supposed to do.

This week’s evidence also revealed the tragically common occurrence where the police, courts and child protection did not function as they should. Where they protected offenders, not their victims.

Adults who were in a position to take action that may have protected children in danger, or who could have stopped Larkins from being given continued access to children, decided it was not necessary, often because of the involvement of the police or because a matter had gone to court, or because a background check should have been done. The frequent assumption that if there was something to be concerned about, appropriate action would have been taken, was shown by this week’s evidence to have been a big factor in continuing to expose children to danger.

Statistics from Victoria, analysed by Judy Courtin, lawyer, researcher and PhD candidate, show just how wrong this assumption is in relation to the police and courts. The end result of the combined efforts of Victorian police and courts is that less than 1% of child sex assaults ever result in a conviction. Even less ever result in the only truly effective child protection measure, removing the offender from access to children via incarceration.

From now on, because of this historic Royal Commission, these assumptions will be challenged and the hard, normally unspoken questions will be asked.

It was very emotional to be one of the only survivors in a room full of corporate, government and police witnesses and lawyers, hearing Gayle Furness ask the very questions we have wanted asked all these years, and watch her wait patiently for an acceptable answer.  An answer that never comes.

It brought slow, sad tears to my eyes to hear how every single witness, even to some extent the brave whistleblower, who in the end left the matter in the untrustworthy hands of his superiors and the police, let down all the vulnerable children to whom the predator Larkins had access. How much suffering around the country has been experienced by all the kids similarly betrayed, over the last 100 years in Australia?

Larkins is not the only predator attracted to Scouts Australia, though he was the focus this week. There are some very smelly old skeletons in the Scouting closets, but a policy from 2000 was presented to the Commission which looked to be an attempt to do the right thing. Such an approach is of course eminently sensible for any well managed modern organisation which does not believe it has a god given right to commit as many crimes as it likes without facing any legal or civil consequences or outside scrutiny.

The Scouts child abuse policy published in 2000 is based on three very simple yet effective points.

1. Immediate suspension for anyone about whom there is a child abuse allegation

2. Provision of counselling for all victims and other affected persons (no limits on counselling, and choice of own counsellor)

3. Report to relevant outside body, either police or child protection authorities or preferably both

Clear. Simple. Measurable. Action.

Not complicated. Not difficult. Not impossible. Not hard to identify the best thing to do.

The Royal Commission’s deliberations will determine whether this is a policy on paper only, a façade to reassure stakeholders and supporters, and whether it was or is in fact implemented.

But even if it is just another smokescreen, it is worth comparing these excellent points to the disgraceful Towards Healing and Melbourne Response operated by the Catholic Church in Australia. Or rather by the Catholic Church’s insurers.

Amazingly, despite arrogantly claiming to set world best practice in dealing with child sexual abuse, and deceitfully crowing that their churches are the safest place for children, the Catholic Church chooses not to attempt to do any of the above three simple and effective actions, but instead the complete opposite.

Church leaders don’t even pretend to undertake these three crucial steps. Because their compliance, or rather lack of compliance, with such clear requirements could be easily measured.

And if compliance can be easily measured, someone might expect church officials to actually do what they claim to do, and not just use such claims to sweep aside questions or criticisms.

And no senior church official has demonstrated any intention of doing anything like the three actions in the Scouts policy.

Because that would protect children rather than child sex predators.

Because that would help victims to recover and to be able to speak out about their abuse.

And because that would take these matters out of the hands of church officials, and knowledge about the nature and scale of the widespread criminality inside the catholic church could become public knowledge.

The Royal Commission could take this excellent starting point further in their recommendations. Organisations where abuse has occurred should be required to immediately and without question report any and all knowledge of such incidents. With stringent penalties, including jail time, for non compliance, slow compliance, or warning predators.

A national statutory authority could receive such reports, collect and hold information, with reference to the privacy of victims, and pass matters onto police, child protection or other bodies as appropriate. The statutory body would ensure victims receive counselling and any other support services, paid for by the abusive organisation but never supplied by anyone associated with the organisation. This body would also decide whether immediate employment suspension was warranted, and ensure an investigation takes place. After an appropriate investigation the offender would be charged by police, have a working with children notification, be restricted from access to children, or have their employment reinstated and their reputation cleared.

A single, national statutory body dealing with all reports would easily be able to provide accurate statistics to governments and researchers to measure the success of child protection measures, to inform future policy and legislation, and to track the lifetime offending record of predators attempting to move from state to state or organisation to organisation to avoid detection.

Naturally such an authority would need to be subject to regular independent audits.

It is not that hard to work out how to protect children instead of child sex offenders. The hard part is proving to Australia’s politicians that there really is no viable option but to put the safety of children first.

That is why the evidence submitted to the Royal Commission is so important.

Because even just the first week of evidence before the Royal Commission has shown clearly that children exposed to child sexual offenders in Australia do not just fall through the cracks. The whole system is one huge gaping chasm, with almost nothing to hold onto, and nothing to catch or support us before or after we fall into their clutches.

It is not a well intentioned system that is somehow failing to do its job. The system has been taken over by the predators themselves, such as Steve Larkins running Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services, doing a Working With Children check on himself, and keeping his staff and even his Board in the dark and too intimidated to ask questions. The system is being steered by those, such as the church officials who developed Towards Healing, who have a vested interest in coverup, denial of healing and obstructing justice. The system is helped by those, who are themselves child sex predators, or who have been bribed, threatened or corrupted by cunning predators, and have worked themselves into strategic positions in the police force, the courts, the education system, mental health, charities and child protection. And from these positions they ensure reports go nowhere, nothing is followed up, evidence is lost or misplaced, procedures are not followed, policies are watered down, and their colleagues are encouraged not to take any breaches seriously.

The current system is actually working perfectly. Because the system is designed to fail children and to sacrifice child safety.

We do not need the Royal Commission to tinker around the edges of this most dysfunctional system.

We need a new system. One the predators and those who enable and coverup for them cannot subvert, cannot divert, and cannot use to harm rather than help Australia’s children.

Stay safe everyone.

V V

The next public hearing of the Royal Commission, into the YMCA and their response to the predator Jonathan Lord, is scheduled for 10.00 am Mon 21 Oct at Hearing Room 1, Level 17, Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney