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Secrecy and sexual abuse in the church and schools, the impact of lawyers, and damage to asylum seekers

As the various enquiries into sexual abuse continue in Australia, it has become appallingly clear just how widespread the abuse has been, and how insistent leaders have been about covering it up and keeping quiet about it, sometimes because they simply have not known how to deal with it.

Recent Royal Commission reports of sexual abuse in Church Schools – abuse compounded by the failure of the schools to do anything except try to limit their legal liability, without the slightest concern for the boys involved – are horrible.

I recently talked to a retired State Primary School Teacher/Principal, and he told me that during the 1970s he had tried to get the police involved in one family situation in which the father was abusing the daughter and which resulted in her bearing multiple children to him. The Teacher was told that the police knew but couldn’t do anything about it. He also told me that his father had been a Principal in a country school. There was a teacher at the school who was involved in sexual abuse; the Education Department’s response was a slap over the wrist and a move to a city school. Later that man became the Principal of a large school. At least today, the police have frameworks in order to be able to take appropriate action.

One of the difficulties we face when looking back, is realizing the fact that our society simply had no accepted way of dealing with the abuse, other than to move someone on to somewhere else. The sad thing about both the Church and the Education Department was that they owed a duty of care to the children – a duty that they did their best to avoid – and regrettably, when lawyers were involved, the response seems too often to have been to never admit anything, and to avoid liability.

Unfortunately the legal response – to not admit, to avoid liability – has compounded the situation and ensured that the damage to victims becomes a lifelong trauma.

Ironically, the potential financial cost to the churches, schools and other organisations that follow the legal way is multiplied greatly. Had the issues been dealt with immediately, the victims supported then and the perpetrators removed from their positions, the total financial cost would have been far less and the long term damage to the organisations would have been substantially reduced.

Had the leaders responsible for this allowed their hearts to decide rather than their heads, we could be acknowledging the responsible and caring way they had responded, and not calling them to Royal Commissions to explain themselves.

Recent reports about abuse of asylum seekers, particularly children, in camps set up offshore to keep them from getting to Australia, suggests that our Australian Governments [both major parties] are creating a new group of abused people. Will we ever be able to highlight their plight before a Royal Commission? Or do our Governments believe that these people aren’t really people so any abuse of them doesn’t matter?

The inability of people in leadership to understand the damage done by abuse continues. Recently a Roman Catholic bishop in Australia, when asked by parishioners to remove a priest from a parish because of past abuse, simply said the priest would return to the parish after his term of leave was finished.

What will it take for true and foundational change to occur?

Filed under

AbuseAccountabilityCorruptionReligion

  • Thumb small graeme ness2

    By Graeme Ness

    As a minister of religion, Graeme worked in parishes in country Victoria, the Kimberley, WA, and in suburban Melbourne for a period of over 26 years. He was also involved in local, regional and state activities. Then for over six years he was a chaplain at a major hospital. He was a member of the Human Research Ethics Committee of that hospital for nearly ten years.

  • Thumb small dean whitling

    Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based commercial photographer and videographer of 12 years.

    A versatile commercial photographer that shoots corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos that have a magic about them.