A Royal Commission is the only answer for Defence

A Royal Commission is the only answer for Defence

Cathy Kezelman

The review into the Australian Defence Force has revealed an endemic culture of physical and sexual assault, including that of children as young as thirteen, and other forms of abuse dating back six decades.

Just one of the anonymous victims. Pic: Network 10
Nothing less than a Royal Commission will deliver the systemic change needed to reverse the damage reaped by the existing culture.

The report, by law firm DLA Piper, is based on 847 independent reports of abuse, involving men and women including allegations of crimes which had been committed against children. The special needs of children, based on their inherent vulnerability and the necessity of incorporating additional protections for children in the ADF, have historically been ignored. Many, according to the reports, were not kept safe and the long-term impacts, as potentially for all child victims of abuse, who have not received the right support, have been substantial.

Over recent years we have witnessed widespread revelations of abuse, often of a systemic nature within an array of institutions and organisations. Many of these institutions and organisations have sought to protect themselves and those who work in them rather than to prioritise accountability, justice, and victim support.

The ADF is a closed hierarchical system which by necessity has a well defined chain of command. Its very structure and internal culture of fear wielded by many of those in authority have, it would appear, conspired to prevent far too many from abusing that authority and power and from reporting incidents of abuse. As the report indicates, it is anticipated that perpetrators of abuse, never held to account would still be holding middle and senior management positions.

Perpetrators use secrecy and silence to hide their crimes and if secrecy fails they attack the credibility of their victims. Secrecy, silence and discrediting occur organisationally and institutionally as well. Blaming, silencing, punishing and re-victimising victims are, it seems, endemic practices within the ADF. A ‘group herd mentality’ has reportedly predominated, discouraging victims to report.

Abuse victims often adopt an inappropriate sense of shame and self blame. The use of shaming and humiliation by the identifying group further fuels the shame inherent to being abused. Similarly a ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality evidenced by generational practices of bastardisation, and cycles of abuse have reportedly continued unabated.

We have watched as institutions have doggedly clung to internal processes, attempted to stay closed to scrutiny, and abrogated hierarchical and bystander responsibility. Within the ADF there has been little to no culture which supports the victim and encourages them to report the abuse perpetrated against them. Or which provides them with the empathy, validation, and therapeutic support victims need to start to process and make sense of their trauma.

Similarly there has been a failure to make those accountable for substantiated cases or to pursue responsible investigation of alleged incidents.

Violence and sexual violence are primarily gendered crimes. Within the ADF, women in particular, appear to have been discriminated against by virtue of their gender, with female victims fearing further victimisation on disclosure, and a macho male mentality predominating in a fundamentally male environment.

Alcohol and other substances are known to fuel abuse and assault. The closed environment within the ADF, in which individuals are removed from family friends and other communities, further contributes to a culture in which fewer factors mitigate the perpetuation of abusive practices. Abuse is an established social practice in all communities. In the community of the ADF, in which personnel are subject to stresses and trauma which are often compounded and exceptional, it would appear that these practices are more entrenched still.

Like other institutions in which abuse has burgeoned, the ADF has insisted on utilising internal processes or, when subjected to reviews, has failed to enact systemic change. In so doing the ADF and successive Australian governments have effectively abrogated their hierarchical responsibility.

It is time to see systemic cultural change with zero tolerance to abuse, sexual abuse, violence and physical assault within the ADF. It is time to engender a culture that is based on mutual respect, acceptance of diversity of gender, race and religion, rather than fear, ignorance, bullying and abuse.

There needs to be an open and transparent culture of reporting in which all allegations are taken seriously and victims’ needs are prioritised. In which crimes are reported to the appropriate external authorities, legal processes are pursued and compensation claims are honoured. Perpetrators must be brought to account and justice, and unless rehabilitated be removed from positions in which they can abuse their power.

It is time for an extensive internal education process which highlights the courage and needs of victims along with the impacts of compounded trauma on the individuals’ development and their physical, mental health and behaviours. And we need to see the provision of informed and sustained therapeutic support for all victims regardless of the length of time since the crimes were committed.

Nothing less than a Royal Commission will institute the systemic changes needed for the ADF to model the respectful non-abusive behaviours which optimise the health and wellbeing of all the men and women of our defence forces.

Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) is the leading Australian charity promoting the needs of the more than two million adult Australian survivors of childhood trauma.Call ASCA 1300 professional support line 1300 657 380 or visit the website

Victorian abuse inquiry must be just the start

Victorian abuse inquiry must be just the start

published National Times

Cathy Kezelman
April 20, 2012 – 11:15AM

Victoria’s inquiry may go some way to shattering the secrecy, tackling the stigma and addressing the denial that surrounds abuse. Photo: John Donegan

The Victorian parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse within religious organisations is to be applauded. The long overdue announcement this week by the Baillieu government has come on the back of years of lobbying by victims, their families and victims’ groups.

The report into the appalling number of suicides by victims of clergy abuse in that state has delivered, it appears, the final momentum needed for the inquiry to be announced.

To those of us who work in the child abuse arena, such statistics, while always chilling, are not surprising. A 2008 Victorian study established that survivors of child sexual assault are up to 18 times more likely to commit suicide than people who haven’t been abused.

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Child abuse is destructive. When victims don’t receive the support and validation they need, as has been perpetrated by an array of religious institutions, the quality of their lives can be badly affected. In some cases, lives are lost.

In Australia more than 2 million adults are living with the impacts of their childhood abuse. Many have described it as an epidemic that is steeped in secrecy, stigma and collective denial. In Australia, Victoria is leading the way in shattering the secrecy, tackling the stigma and addressing the denial.

It’s a start, but it’s now time for full transparency and real accountability across the board.

This inquiry must be followed by similar processes in other states and territories, supported with a national broad-based inquiry.

As has been suggested, such a process may well be better served by a royal commission or judicial inquiry. It’s a matter of what will wield greater power.

Make no mistake, this is an issue of power; the power of a perpetrator over a victim, the power of an adult over a child, the power of a person in a position of trust betraying that trust, the power of a member of the clergy abrogating their responsibility, the power of the strong over the vulnerable.

It has also been an issue of the power of religious institutions to operate by their own rules, internal rules that have, at times, put them at odds with the very laws that hold other organisations, institutions and citizens accountable.

Religious institutions are predominantly closed patriarchal systems. The more closed the organisation or institution, often the greater the investment in maintaining silence and secrecy. Perpetrators use secrecy and silence to hide their crimes and if secrecy fails, they attack the credibility of victims to try to ensure that no one listens.

We have witnessed the blaming and discrediting of victims within religious institutions, with the shame that victims feel projected onto them all over again.

These systems have their own structures and hierarchies. In the case of the Catholic Church, these structures have prevented victims from pursuing claims against that institution, and internal canon law has taken precedence over civil law.

In many religious institutions the hierarchical systems have perpetuated secrecy and denial, led by an inherent belief that the religious institution knows best and will handle the issue internally, thereby seeking to contain the shame and controversy around such crimes.

So why has it taken so long for any government to come forward and tackle this issue? Collectively, as a society we recoil from stories of abuse. Often we would rather blame the victim for making us uncomfortable and, effectively, for their own victimisation.

As a society we continue to betray those who have been abused in childhood, silencing and shaming them, minimising and negating their experiences. As bystanders we are complicit in these practices, and the shame so inappropriately adopted by victims belongs with us all.

Generations of survivors of clergy abuse have now spoken out. The time has come for us as a society to overcome our disgust, push aside the stigma and taboo around abuse and take action.

It is within a conspiracy of silence and collective denial that the crime of child sexual assault thrives. It is enormously difficult for victims to speak out, both in childhood and as adults. Silenced by shame, threats and the fear of not being believed, many victims don’t ever tell their story. And some don’t ever get the chance.

Thank you, Premier Baillieu and your government, for listening.

Dr Cathy Kezelman is the president of Adults Surviving Child Abuse.

Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/politics/victorian-abuse-inquiry-must-be-just-the-start-20120419-1x9of.html#ixzz1sZ9dbzeg

Sue Gervay speaks about launch of Innocence Revisited


‘Dr Cathy Kezelman has turned trauma to hope in her personal account of child abuse in her book’, said Senior Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC. Tedeschi’s moving speech revealed that he has met child abusers in his court and they are capable of everything Cathy experienced.  Cathy ‘conquered the demons to find her family and herself.  

GleeBooks was filled to capacity as Cathy spoke about  her life – the abuse, the silence, the final crash when all the memories came back in frightening memories – and the twelve turbulent hard years she and her family travelled to find Cathy and heal. Cathy’s 4 children moved the audience to tears as they expressed their love of their mother, and their father who stood beside them during these years of self discovery.  They felt that their mother had given them the gift of truth and the strength to strive for survival and find freedom. It was beautiful. They especially expressed their gratitude and love to artist Sue Meyer-Szekely who had supported Cathy and the family throughout the years.

I was privileged to read the manuscript and endorse this special book.

Professor Freda Briggs AO Emeritus Professor of Child Development says – ‘I hope Cathy’s story will encourage oothers to create a safer and more caring world for children.