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Sep
15

This article appeared in THE AUSTRALIAN on September 12, 2017, written by Robert Llewellyn-Jones, we highlight this emotive paragraph and below we insert the article in full for our readers.

“What sustains me is the conviction that the work of child protection is never done. 
It is the work of every generation. 
It is a narrative as old as the human race. 
The capacity for human oppression takes countless forms. 
Abraham Lincoln’s better angels thrive only when societies establish cultures that respect diversity, eschew all forms of sexual violence, uphold the rights of children, promote equality and have zero tolerance for the powerful dominating the weak.” 

Robert Llewellyn-Jones

Child Abuse Royal Commission’s Work Must Continue

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that Julia Gillard launched in 2012 ends soon. As an abuse survivor and a practising psychiatrist treating many abuse survivors, I cannot stress too much how important it is to continue the commission’s work. It would be a callous betrayal of the thousands who have courageously told their stories if the commission’s recommendations are not adopted, to prevent a repetition of the sordid past and the possibility of abuse echoing down the corridors of history in some other malignant form. 

For almost five years, thousands of harrowing stories have finally been heard; stories of institutional denial, obfuscation and cover-ups, of actions and inaction that placed institutions’ reputations ahead of the safety and wellbeing of children. Some institutions claim they should not be held accountable for the actions of the offending “bad apples”. But these “bad apples” frequently were moved on when their offending was discovered and no action was taken to prevent them reoffending. 

Children were punished, threatened and intimidated when they disclosed abuse to those who were charged with keeping them safe. Moreover, abuse often took place in institutions that promoted a culture of physical and emotional cruelty or were wilfully ignorant of such brutality. 

Many cases of historical abuse have been referred to the police, but few convictions have resulted. Many institutions have promised to do better. The reputations of individuals who failed to keep children safe have been tarnished but they have mostly escaped more serious outcomes. 


The national redress scheme proposed by the royal commission almost two years ago has yet to be established. The Australian’s John Ferguson reported yesterday the $4 billion scheme is due to be up and running next year. He revealed deep divisions among the states and Canberra about how the scheme should be run and who should fund it. 

Most states are refusing to opt in until the Turnbull government explains the scheme’s architecture. Meanwhile, survivors seeking compensation continue to be subjected to gruelling adversarial litigation. Some of them tell me that lawyers acting for some of the offending institutions are privately using aggressive legal tactics even as the institution itself is making public claims of responding to survivors with compassion. 

The adverse effects of institutional abuse have been catastrophic. The assault on survivors’ human dignity was often compounded by the searing fusion of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. As adults many survivors have existed in a twilight, unable to give voice to their pain until the royal commission was convened. 

Many lives were blighted or destroyed by descent into addiction in attempts to block out the pain caused by recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and depression. Many could not hold down jobs or sustain stable relationships. Suicide has not been uncommon. It is tempting to turn away. 

As a survivor of child abuse and as a psychiatrist, I do not have that luxury. I felt the searing evil of sexual abuse as a child and with every revelation of abuse that I hear from my patients I again face the challenge of how not to lose faith in the better angels of human nature. 

What sustains me is the conviction that the work of child protection is never done.  It is the work of every generation.  It is a narrative as old as the human race.  The capacity for human oppression takes countless forms.  Abraham Lincoln’s better angels thrive only when societies establish cultures that respect diversity, eschew all forms of sexual violence, uphold the rights of children, promote equality and have zero tolerance for the powerful dominating the weak.

Robert Llewellyn-Jones is a psychiatrist who assists survivors of sexual abuse and who was abused at Geelong Grammar School. 

Original article can be read here www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/child-abuse-royal-commissions-work-must-continue/news-story/c0339f86b2a136464643c750edde0f9f

Comments

Anne Morrison
# Anne Morrison
Friday, 29 September 2017 3:45 PM
Thank you Robert for your thoughtful and timely comments, and for your courage to work with adult survivors of child sexual abuse while also a survivor.

I think we should also not forget that, while the spotlight in this Royal Commission has been shone on institutional child sexual abuse, we have not yet seen a similar process for non-institutional child sexual abuse, which is reportedly even more prevalent than instititional sexual abuse and equally damaging. According to Salter (2016), "[In Australia] the last public inquiry into child sexual abuse that addressed incest concluded in the late 1980s ... By the 1990s, however, the issue of incest had largely disappeared from the agenda of public inquiries." In tracing the history of Australian public inquiries into CSA over the last 40-50 years, Salter concludes "Incest is in many ways the spectral double of contemporary public inquiries into child abuse. It stands in the shadow of more visible and better recognised forms of child sexual abuse, consistently excluded from the terms of reference of public inquiry."

Incest is, of course, just one context of child sexual abuse that has not been addressed by the current Royal Commission because it is outside the terms of reference. All contexts of child sexual abuse deserve attention.

I suggest that the Royal Commission into Institutional CSA may unwittingly provide a point of unresolved tension for those of us who were abused in non-institutional contexts. While I of course applaud the fact that many survivors of institutional abuse have had the opportunity for their cases to be heard in formal settings and treated with the seriousness and respect that is due, there nonetheless remains a void for those who were abused in non-institutional contexts and who, for various reasons (e.g. death of the perpetrator, statues of limitations, lack of financial or emotional resources) have not been heard through the existing criminal justice system.

I fear that, once the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse has been completed, there may be a collective public sense of ‘job done’ in relation to CSA, when in reality the much larger issue of non-institutional CSA has not been subject to any official public examination for several decades, despite significant changes in society and technology, and despite changes in reporting. Surely, there is a contemporary need to investigate non-institutional CSA with the same rigour as institutional CSA?

I am particularly interested in the opportunities for official legitimation and validation that survivors of institutional CSA have been offered through the Royal Commission process. Many survivors have had the opportunity to be heard, their experiences documented, names of perpetrators (and those who support them) recorded, and the mechanisms that enabled perpetrators to act with social and legal impunity exposed and scrutinised. This process has no equivalent for the vast majority of survivors of non-institutional CSA (nor, for that matter, survivors of other forms of institutional or non-institutional abuse - physical, emotional etc.).

In the absence of legal justice, the social justice afforded by a Royal Commission or similar inquiry may be the only opportunity for survivors of non-institutional CSA to be heard, their cases documented, and their justice concerns taken seriously.

Anne

Reference:
Salter, M. (2016) The privatisation of incest: The neglect of familial sexual abuse in Australian public inquiries. In Findlay, M., Kaladelfos, A., & Smaal, Y. The sexual abuse of children: Recognition and redress. Monash University Press: Melbourne.

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“Blue Knot Foundation has a key role to play in the building of community capacity in care provision to those who have experienced childhood abuse and trauma in any environment.”

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