Tardy redress would hurt victims more

The testimony given to the royal commission sitting in Ballarat provides further insight into the unconscionable human cost of child sexual abuse. The inquiry has revealed that 12 boys have died, allegedly by suicide from a single class of 33 at St Alipius school and 40 suicides related to child sexual assault have occurred within the Ballarat community. This community has been crushed to its core.

Silenced survivors have shown courage coming forward. … To not promptly address their needs would not only be soul-destroying but also life-threatening.

One after another, victims are continuing to come forward courageously breaking their silence. It has been asserted that there were schools in which no child was safe, with periods during which every teacher was an alleged sex offender.

With no safe place or person to tell, these children lived in constant fear of the next assault, powerless and helpless, as those charged with their care abused their power and betrayed them time and again. The possibility of “fight or flight”, a normal physiological response to danger was not available. Where was their community of nurture, care and compassion? And why did no one intervene to protect them?


These survivors, now men, have related heartbreaking stories of lives ruined by disability, welfare dependency, mental illness, substance abuse and relationship breakdown. Many of those who have not paid the ultimate price are living a life sentence imposed by the predatory behaviour of paedophile priests and sealed by a system which protected its own at all costs.

The leadership of the Catholic Church in particular, is now under intense scrutiny. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is prising open a previously secretive and closed network. The silence is being shattered.

Throughout the royal commission we have seen a series of entrenched systems previously accountable only to their own internal intransigence publicly examined and we as a community have been shocked. That so many once revered systems could so conspire to betray their charges, not once but repeatedly, over decades and across leadership structures, is not acceptable.

The royal commission will release its interim recommendations around redress and civil litigation at the end of June. The recommendations will lay the foundations for a fair and just response for victims, including those now providing testimony in Ballarat. Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) calls on state and federal governments in Australia to respond proactively. They must immediately move to put in place frameworks and structures to implement the recommendations.

Silenced survivors have shown courage coming forward. They have trusted the commission and its processes as well as the governments that have supported it. To not promptly address their needs would not only be soul-destroying but also life-threatening.

When the recommendations are released, the immediate response should provide optimal possibilities for survivors to access much-needed support and redress. For many it will be too little; let’s not make it too late for all.

It is time for institutions to be brought to justice and held accountable. It is also time for true leadership, the sort of leadership seen within the commission, and it needs to come not just from all of the institutions paraded before the commission, but also from governments across Australia.

Dr Cathy Kezelman is the president of Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA)

Help and support for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse is available from the ASCA professional support line on 1300 657 380, 9am- 5pm Monday-Sunday.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/tardy-redress-would-hurt-sex-abuse-victims-further-20150521-gh6hex.html#ixzz3vdhh4mUz
Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook

The Knox Grammar Controversy is a Heartbreaking Story

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 feel 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.

Read more: Carrie has a message for child abuse survivors in Australia.

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 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.

Read more at http://www.mamamia.com.au/knox-grammar-controversy/#9O6BjYEjjx7e421O.99

Cardinal George Pell – his personal appearance – a real opportunity

Cardinal George Pell withdrew from his much-awaited personal appearance by at the public hearing into the Melbourne archdiocese and Ballarat diocese this week, due to a sudden exacerbation of long-standing heart condition. The move frustrated not only victims and advocates, but also the very process of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Call me naïve, but I am struggling to retain a fundamental belief in the moral rectitude of our institutions, and the compassion of those in a position of power and responsibility within them. The wealth of contentious evidence and damning allegations uncovered makes this a primal challenge, and one in which I believe I am far from alone.

Failure to respond to systemic child sexual abuse is not restricted to religious institutions; nor to the Catholic Church alone. However, allegations have been mounting about the role of the then Archbishop Pell, the integrity of the Catholic Church process, in particularly The Melbourne Response, further challenged in the recent 60 Minutes segment. Searing testimony during the last week’s public hearing into the Ballarat diocese, makes consideration of the Church’s actions, in general, and Cardinal Pell’s role, in particular, pertinent and topical.

As the President of Australia’s national organisation, Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA), and, as a child abuse survivor myself, I am struck by the contrast between the tenacity of victims seeking to be heard and acknowledged, and the apparent ongoing disregard, for their welfare by some of the powers that be.

The decision by Cardinal Pell, prior to his ill-health intervening, to cross-examine victims runs the very real risk of re-traumatising survivors.

The Melbourne Response, established by the then Archbishop Pell, was established as an independent body to efficiently respond to victims, lessen their suffering and provide support, compensation and justice. According to Cardinal Pell, the three main components – the Commissioners, the counselling arm and the Compensation Panel – of The Melbourne Response, were independent from the Archdiocese.

Under the scrutiny of the Royal Commission, its processes, goals and outcomes are being brought into question.

Firstly, it has been alleged that the ‘Independent’ Commissioner, Peter O’Callaghan QC, appointed in 1996, shared his instructing solicitor with the Archdiocese. Secondly, the Royal Commission’s public hearing in May heard that Peter O’Callaghan never, in his role as Commissioner, reported abuse to the police. Furthermore, in stark contrast to the Commission’s sensitivity to the need to optimise survivor psychological and physical safety, Peter O’Callaghan interviewed victims in his chambers, a daunting physical space for anyone, but especially for victims of abuse.

The role of Professor Richard Ball, the psychiatrist appointed for clinical services to victims of Church abuse, also highlights the question of independence and trust. Recent allegations about two letters allegedly written by Professor Ball on the same day, one to the paedophile priest, Father O’Donnell’s lawyer, and the second to a sentencing judge, providing conflicting information is clearly a matter of the utmost gravity.

The personal appearance of Cardinal Pell before the Commission would provide a long-awaited opportunity for him to prove that the needs of victims for justice, compassion and support are his primary concern.

One only hopes that Cardinal Pell’s ill-health will improve and he will have the opportunity to respond to all allegations made to the Royal Commission, and so right the record. If he fails to do so, one could be forgiven for believing that minimising financial and legal risk and accountability were, and still remain, key drivers for the Church, and for him, as Vatican treasurer.

If my faith, and that of so many others, in this institution and in institutions more broadly, is to be restored, the needs of victims as well as genuine compassion must dominate the words and actions of all leaders.


Help and support for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse is available from the ASCA professional support line on 1300 657 380, 9am- 5pm Monday-Sunday

ABC Radio National interview

‘Lewis Blayse, a tireless campaigner passed away this week but not before he saw the day on which the Salvation Army, within which he was abused, called to account at a public hearing of the Commission. I was interviewed by Fan Kelly on radio national about his legacy and the progress of and expectations from the Royal Commission to date.’

Victims’ welfare key in abuse inquiry

Victims’ welfare key in abuse inquiry

The royal commission on institutional responses to the sexual abuse of children in religious, government and non-government organisations offers a unique opportunity for Australia to establish robust child protection and victim support systems.

Schools, churches and other such organisations and institutions, and those who work in them, are in a position of responsibility and accountability for the children entrusted into their care. Any abuse of their power and authority, as happens with child sexual assault, can cause fear, horror and helplessness.

When that abuse is repeated, trust is further betrayed. When organisations and institutions ignore, minimise and dismiss survivors’ experiences, the impacts can be further compounded.

Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) welcomes the royal commission. It brings an opportunity to fully, comprehensively and transparently investigate all allegations of child sexual assault, past and present, and the processes, practices, policies, laws and systems that conspire to perpetuate the actual and potential sexual assault of Australian children.

While Australia will be looking to the commission to provide recommendations that prioritise the safety and protection of our children, the commission must also make recommendations regarding apologies, redress, reparation, and professional support for victims.

Child sexual assault entails the abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. In many cases it has been perpetrated by those in a position of authority, in care-giving and pastoral roles.

The destructive effects of such assaults have, in many cases, been further exacerbated by organisations that could have stopped them, failed to validate the experiences of victims and failed to respond empathically or provide appropriate care and support.

In child sexual assault the traumatic acts are premeditated, often repeated and can occur over a long period of time. The impacts are cumulative and destructive. But with the right support, personal and professional, there is cause for hope and optimism – recovery is possible.

The damaging experiences on the brain can be repaired, and survivors benefit from ongoing therapy and counselling from those with expertise in recovery from child sexual assault.

The commission has a responsibility to recommend the provision of the right professional support for survivors and the resources to enable it.

In addition, it is imperative that the commission and its officers understand the effects of trauma on victims and their particular vulnerabilities and sensitivities. This includes survivors’ susceptibility to repeated stressors, including subsequent betrayals, minimisation of their experiences, drawn out negotiations for compensation and other forms of re-traumatisation.

Child sexual assault is most commonly perpetrated by adults on whom the child depends and trusts – family members or other adults in regular contact through school, church, sports or other community activities.

In announcing research from callers to the 1300 support line last month, ASCA confirmed that for the vast majority of children who have been abused, the abuse was by someone they know.

Of those who spoke about their perpetrators, the research shows the majority, 62 per cent, were harmed by their immediate family and 23 per cent by extended family. Only 2 per cent were abused by strangers.

Other perpetrators include family friends (12 per cent), religious group (9 per cent) and teachers (5 per cent).

The safety and protection of children is an absolute priority. So too is the process of recovery for child and adult victims. When a person has experienced child sexual abuse they are prone to re-traumatisation, which can occur at any age, with trauma and its impacts being compounded over time.

When a child is sexually abused the child takes on an inappropriate sense of shame and self-blame, and these feelings often continue into adult life.

Even though survivors may want to talk about their feelings, their own shame, as well as fear of how others will respond, can stop them from doing so.

Overcoming the shame of child sexual assault and speaking out takes courage and fortitude. It means facing the betrayal of those who perpetrated the abuse and those who were complicit in protecting them.

Those conducting this commission of inquiry need to be informed about trauma to minimise the potential for re-traumatisation.

That said, the vast majority of survivors and survivor organisations welcome the royal commission as an opportunity to be heard, to see justice done and to influence real change.

Offering a choice to provide public or private testimony would enable more survivors to break the secrecy and silence of child sexual assault, to feel empowered and understood. Being listened to and being believed can be an important step in the recovery process. Genuine and heart-felt apologies, as well as a process of redress, can also go some way towards starting that process.

Let’s seize the opportunity to work together to achieve that end.

Dr Cathy Kezelman is president of Adults Surviving Child Abuse.