posted on February 27, 2015 17:42
We now know about the horrors of Knox Grammar. But how many other schools were hiding the same secrets?
As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse shines the spotlight on Knox Grammar we sit aghast at how this school, and, so many others could fail our children so badly.
As parents we all want our children to be safe always…
But what are we talking about? How many schools? How many children?
Then? Now? How have things changed and what can we expect in years to come?
The Royal Commission has shown that there is no one school type implicated – religious, secular, single-sex or co-ed.
More pertinent than features of difference are those of cultural similarity. Failure to notice, failure to believe, failure to report, failure to act.
In some cases there was more than one perpetrator. In others, principals and other teachers were complicit in protecting perpetrators. Those guilty were moved from school to school, exposing more children to harm.
What was it like for the children trapped in a culture in which they were scared to disclose, threatened into silence, punished for speaking out? To be told they were special and plied with treats to prove it – victims of insidious grooming behaviour which went unrecognised. Only to learn that being special brought repeated pain, angst and shame.
As we watch victims come forward to speak out about their horror and entrapment, the incredible betrayal they felt, the power imbalance which kept them disempowered, we are moved by their courage and shocked by their angst. The horrors of living for years with inappropriate shame, guilt and self-blame, imposed on them by their perpetrators and a culture which ostracised and punished victims.
Their daily struggles to feel okay, to make it to work, to hold a relationship, to feel and be healthy, to not drink or smoke to excess in an attempt to try and ease distress. Depression, self-harm, suicide attempts and for some, the ultimate cost – losing their life.
While many of the instances are historical, sadly some are all too recent. It is important to say that many schools are in fact safe. For others the prior culture of secrecy, cover-up, fear and intimidation is starting to change.
The Royal Commission has been a catalyst for greater openness and transparency. And the time in which children were seen and not heard, in which child sexual abuse was named or spoken about has truly passed.
We now know that children rarely ‘make up stories’ of being sexually abused and we are beginning to understand what it means for a person to be sexually abused as a child – in childhood, as an adolescent and into adulthood. The culture is changing.
Working with children checks, mandatory reporting, child-safe practices, age-appropriate child programs, education and training of all staff. But most important is a fundamental cultural shift which demands strong leadership to produce cultures which are open, transparent and accountable.
The days of closed hierarchical systems, a law unto themselves are gone.
The Royal Commission will complete its work in December 2017 and provide recommendations to government. In the meantime and always, we have every right to seek evidence from our schools that they are putting the safety of our children first in everything they do.
If you or another adult you know was sexually abused as a child call ASCA on 1300 657 380.
Dr Cathy Kezelman's opinion piece has been published and can be found at: http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/knox-grammar-controversy/