Tag Archives: Child sexual abuse

Don’t blame the victim for society’s failures

2 Apr

New legislation introduced in Victoria makes not reporting child sexual abuse a criminal offence, however, some victim support groups fear women in a domestic violence situation whose children are being sexually abused by the violent partner may be charged and imprisoned if they do not report that abuse.

At first blush the legislation appears to apply primarily to organisations, however support groups are concerned criminal charges could be laid against individuals within the family who have knowledge of the abuse and do not report it.

News Limited journalist Joe Hildebrande today added his opinion to the discussion: “Frankly to say that you’re going to not report a case of child abuse or child sex abuse by your partner because you are scared for your own safety, I’m sorry it’s not an excuse,” he said.

In my own family, my mother took no steps to protect me from sexual abuse by her husband for over five years. She was also violently abused, and the situation was at times so dire we both feared for our lives. I’m fairly certain that my mother’s fear was not just that she would be harmed if she reported her husband to the police, but that he would seriously damage or kill our whole family.

For many years I was unable to understand why my mother did nothing to protect me, and after having my own children, I found it even more difficult to understand. I also understand the state of mind of a woman who is subjected to ongoing physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse by her partner, and that one of the consequences of this is an inability to take any positive action at all. Obviously, this state of mind is not easily understood by people who have never experienced it, hence the all too familiar question, why doesn’t she just leave?

Much as I still struggle with having been unprotected by my mother, I can image little worse than her being charged and imprisoned for that failure.  Neither do I regard her fear for her safety, and mine, as an “excuse” for her lack of action.

I am very, very weary of the moral judgements made against women who live with violent partners. The main reason women do not just leave such situations is that there is nowhere safe for them to go, and apprehended violence orders are not worth the paper they are written on. Unless society is willing to provide many, many more safe houses for women and children, and far more support in terms of rehousing, finance and protection, women and children will not “just leave” and cannot “just leave.”

What there is no excuse for is domestic violence and the sexual abuse of children by perpetrators. Victims cannot prevent these crimes. Society can have a far more powerful impact, if there is the political will. Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has so far had nothing to say on the topic of domestic violence, which is to my mind the most pressingly urgent matter in women’s and children’s affairs.  Some leading feminists are, unfortunately, focused largely on the lack of female CEOs and each to their own, however, when we consider that after some four decades of feminism the domestic violence statistics have not improved one iota, I have to wonder exactly what are women in positions of power and influence actually doing about this?

What I do know is that to blame and punish women such as my mother for not protecting children such as myself is to my mind an admission of defeat, and a victory for every perpetrator. A woman who is already suffering horribly, who is aware that her child or children are suffering horribly and is too afraid for their safety or lives to speak out, is not the problem here. The perpetrator is the problem here, and the society that by its despicable lack of adequate action allows these horrors to continue.

 

On the “unforgivability” of child sex abuse

3 Feb

Mandela ForgivenessOn the weekend, Dylan Farrow published a piece in the New York Times recounting her experience of childhood sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by her mother’s then partner, Woody Allen.

There was, predictably, an explosion of views on the matter. What caught my attention were the many observations that child sexual abuse is ‘unforgivable.’ As one who has lived through childhood sexual abuse, I find that assertion offensive, ignorant and entirely unhelpful, and I’m about to explain why this is so.

But before I do, there ought not to be any expectation for anyone to forgive injury. Forgiveness is an action that, if embarked upon, can take years to complete. It may never be completed. It may never be begun. I’m writing about my own experience as it has unfolded over many years, and what I needed to do for my own well-being.

What is meant when people talk about forgiveness?  The philosopher Charles Griswold, in his 2007 book Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration, states that forgiveness should be understood as:

…a moral relation between two individuals, one of whom has wronged the other, and who (at least in the ideal) are capable of communication with each other. In this ideal context, forgiveness requires reciprocity between injurer and injured. I shall reserve the term forgiveness for this moral relation.

I am in complete disagreement with this definition. Many situations of  injury are such that it is impossible and/or entirely unwise for an injured party to communicate with a perpetrator. Many perpetrators never concede their actions have caused harm. Griswold’s paradigm excludes many from the possibility of engaging in the process of forgiveness, as he admits:

When none of the conditions is met, the threshold of what will count as forgiveness is not crossed;sadly, and painfully, in such cases we are either unforgiven, or unable to forgive.

My own perspective is a secular one, and I think of forgiveness as perhaps belonging in the human rights discourse rather than the religious, or any crypto-theological morality such as that espoused by Griswold.  When I have foresworn all desire for revenge, and any of the other abuses of resentment, I have forgiven. It is irrelevant if the perpetrator knows this or not, unless it is important for me that he/she does.

I don’t believe forgiveness requires the perpetrator’s remorse. I don’t believe an injured person needs to confront a perpetrator, or continue any association with him or her, in order to forgive them. Most importantly, I don’t believe forgiveness is first and foremost for the benefit of the perpetrator, but rather it’s a state of mind that can finally bring relief and freedom for the injured party from cripplingly painful and destructive emotions.

Which is not to say there’s anything amiss if an injured party chooses to confront their perpetrator. Only that this is not necessary for forgiveness.

I see forgiveness as a human rights matter because acts of revenge that cause suffering to another are always a human rights matter. …Using the suffering of a person or persons to satisfy oneself is morally objectionable, because it amounts to the treatment of wrongdoers as a means only, failing to respect their human worth, writes Trudy Govier in her book Forgiveness and Revenge. At the height of extreme pain caused by injury, it’s difficult if not impossible to think of the perpetrator as having any ‘human worth,’ however in order to inflict injury on me, the perpetrator has already used me as if I have no human worth. Am I to become like him/her? How will that help me?

While it’s perfectly acceptable for anyone to say ‘I would find that injury unforgivable if it were inflicted on me,’ it is not acceptable to apply that judgement to another. The state of non forgiveness is a horrific state in which to spend one’s life. Having been grievously injured by an abuser, is one then expected to suffer the agony of everlasting hurt and desire for a revenge that cannot possibly ever be commensurate with the injury? The desire for revenge, the inability to forgive (if we understand that term to mean the relinquishing of such desires) fixes the victim in their trauma and denies her or him the possibility of a life free from the aftermath of injury. The victim is trapped in a relationship of horrible and unwanted intimacy (for abuse is always intimate) the only escape from which is to forgive. Why, then, would anyone cruelly claim there is such a thing as an ‘unforgivable’ offence?

I will never forget, but I must, if I’m to have any life at all, forgive. The injurious act, as Hannah Arendt points out, is irredeemable, it presents us with …the predicament of irreversibility. This is but one of the challenges facing an injured person. The injury cannot be undone, the life-altering impacts cannot be undone, one is forever changed by the experience of being injured, the life that might have been, perhaps should have been is stolen, and one will never forget. As well as grieving the injury, I grieve the loss of who I would have been had this injury not occurred, a particularly difficult process for those injured while children, who can feel their childhood was destroyed by the actions of an adult.

Judith Butler, in Giving an Account of Oneself, The Spinoza Lectures, suggests that …it may be that the very way we respond to injury offers the chance we have to become human. Commensurate punishment or revenge dehumanises the victim of injury, however what humanises her/him is the opportunity to develop ...a model of ethical capaciousness that understands the pull of the claim, and resists that pull at the same time, providing a certain ambivalent gesture as the action of ethics itself.

What I understand Butler to be saying here is that in the space of uncomfortable tension creating by opposing claims (to punish or to abstain from punishing) the injured party has the opportunity to learn to live with powerful and irreconcilable desires and in so doing, move beyond the ‘unforgivable’ into a life free of revenge and its abuses.

In so doing, I am empowered. In contrast, if the injury done to me is deemed ‘unforgivable,’ I am condemned to a life of ongoing disempowerment, in which my actions are forever governed by my desire for revenge, and my bitter hatred of the one who has done this thing to me.

Commensurate punishment of a perpetrator may frequently be impossible. However, forgiveness …becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible. Its history would begin… with the unforgivable…what would be a forgiveness that forgave only the forgivable? asks Derrida.

Forgiveness must rest on a human possibility – I insist on these two words… he continues. Injury is a human action, the rape of a child takes place in the realm of human affairs. Monsters do not sexually abuse children, humans do. Forgiveness arises in the recognition of our common humanity, and the terrifying capacity for injury and destruction that humanity contains.

So this is why I object to child sexual abuse being described as ‘unforgivable.’ If I tell you I have forgiven, do you then tell me I’m deluding myself?

Do you tell me it is impossible for me to forgive what was done to me, and I don’t know what I’m talking about? Do you disempower me yet again with your opinion? Do you know better than I know myself what my life’s struggle has been? Would you have me lose my life to emotions that destroy my freedom, while affecting my perpetrator not one bit?

If I decide that what was done to me is unforgivable, though I may, at times of great distress, use that term, I am terminating all hope of freedom. Forgiveness is a mystery, beyond the reach of justice and punishment, both of which can be, and often are, incommensurate with the injury inflicted.

So let us speak of the mystery of forgiveness. Forgiving is imperative…it is extremely difficult to forgive. I don’t even know if forgiveness exists. Hélène Cixous

Cardinal spin

14 Nov

Happier times: Abbott & Pell breaking bread

In his press conference yesterday, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell gave a compelling display of belligerent bafflement as he wrangled with reality to spin his institution’s appalling record of child sexual abuse as a smear campaign by the media against the church.

It is all an exaggeration, the Cardinal protested, a breathtakingly disingenuous stance given the church’s record in the Hunter Valley alone, which goes something like this:  Four hundred known victims. Eleven clergy tried and convicted since 1995. Six Catholic teachers convicted since 1995. Three priests currently on trial. First priest charged this year with concealing the crimes of another. Twelve priests involved in compensation claims. 

As the conference progressed it became increasingly clear that a significant reason  for Pell supporting the proposed Royal Commission is because he believes it will exonerate the church by proving its clergy are no worse than any other institution’s employees when it comes to sexually assaulting children. “We are not the only cab on the rank,” the Cardinal huffily claimed, and went on to demand that the police check their stats and tell us just how many of the total complaints of child sexual abuse received are made against the Catholic church, because that’s the only way the church will get any justice and by gods, the church deserves justice, for the church has been persecuted.

It is an indication of the morally parlous state the Catholic church is in, if George Pell is its most senior member, and the best spokesperson they can come up with. The man obviously has no grasp of the magnitude of the problem and is blinded by his loyalty not to his god, but to his institution. If ever there was a time a bloke should ask himself what would Jesus say, this is it for the Cardinal.

Just what the Royal Commission will achieve is an unknown, however what the promise of a commission has already achieved is validation of the suffering of survivors of institutional childhood sexual abuse. The offences against them are being acknowledged as serious enough to warrant outrage, and there is overwhelming support for a public accounting.

There is another group of survivors, of whom I am one, who are the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by family, friends and acquaintances. For many of us there is no hope of justice, and we have had to learn to live with this reality. I am deeply relieved that institutional sexual abuse is finally receiving the scrutiny it deserves, because my life experience is also validated by this acknowledgement, even though my story can’t be told within a commission’s terms of reference, and the perpetrator and his enablers can’t be held accountable. I want to see a profound cultural change in attitudes towards the sexual abuse of children, and I believe we are on the way at last. This is grounds enough for rejoicing.

If the Australian Catholic church wants to get on board with this change, they first need to get rid of George Pell as their leader. His sickening whining is a disgrace. Pell is yet another example of the angry ageing Anglo male who just doesn’t get it. Like the rest of his ilk, he’s a boil on the arse of progress.

Pell claims a “disproportionate attack on the church”

12 Nov

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, today claimed that calls for a royal commission into the sexual abuse of children by priests and brothers  are a “disproportionate attack on the church.”

Pell goes on to claim that the Catholic church is not the only culprit, or the only community producing culprits, and that the sordid history of coverups, removal of offenders from one school, parish, diocese or state to another is no indication of a systemic failing in the church.

If this widespread protection of sexual offenders isn’t an indication of systemic moral and criminal collapse, I’d like to know what is.

There is no doubt that the Catholic church is not the only culprit, and that sexual abuse of children occurs in other institutions and indeed, within families and friendship circles. I fail to see why this tragic reality is an argument for letting the Catholic church off the hook. “He did it too” is hardly a rational justification for avoiding investigation.

The phrase “disproportionate attack” is an apt description not of proposed moves against the Catholic church, but of the crimes perpetrated by its priests and brothers against children. Cardinal Pell continues to confirm suspicions in the wider society that he just doesn’t get it. His priority is his church, not the children who suffered abuse perpetrated by members of the church community.

Given the nature of these attacks, their prevalence, and their disastrous long-term effects on the lives of victims, it is hard to imagine how any “attack” on the Catholic church could be seen as “disproportionate” to the crimes it has allowed to be committed, unchecked, for decades.

Indeed, I would argue the Church is not being “attacked” at all, rather it is being called to account for these crimes. This accounting may well go on for some time, and may well increase in its rigour. However, nothing that is done to the Church or its hierarchy will come anywhere near the damage and havoc created in the lives of victims and their families.

Sexual abuse of a child is a crime. Anyone who sexually abuses a child is a criminal. Anyone who covers up the crime is also a criminal. George Pell continues his efforts to minimise the role of the Church in enabling circumstances in which a network of criminal pedophiles could continue their vile practices for years. He does this because his loyalty is to his church, not to his God, who according to scriptures would see anyone who offends a little one tossed into the sea with a millstone round his neck.

George Pell’s loyalty and devotion is to an institution, an institution that appears increasingly corrupt in its convoluted efforts to avoid legal scrutiny, and increasingly divorced from the passionate ideals of its prophet, Jesus.

As Leonard Cohen puts it: “It was you who built the temple, it was you who covered up my face…”

What is “disproportionate” is the Catholic church’s resistance to a Royal Commission. What is “disproportionate” are protests by the like of Joe Hockey, Bill Shorten and others who attempt to conceal their objections to a royal commission behind a faux concern for the church’s victims. In so doing, they contribute to the repression and suppression that has allowed these crimes to continue, unchecked. Victims of child sexual abuse live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Silence and denial are not their friends. Transparency  and accountability won’t entirely take away the pain, but they will go a long way towards easing the torments of life after childhood sexual abuse.

 

Pedophile priests make a mockery of confession

18 Jul

The Victorian inquiry into the handling of child sex abuse by religious groups poses this question in its submission guide: “To what extent should the reporting of suspicions of abuse be circumscribed by laws, customs and ethical codes of religions?”

Currently, the Catholic church regards confession as sacrosanct, and forbids its priests from revealing anything told to them during the performance of the confessional sacrament. Should an offending priest confess that he has raped and or sexually molested a child, his confessor is bound to keep his admission confidential. The priest escapes trial and punishment by the legal system, and is free to continue his criminal practices without fear of discovery and retribution.

No doubt the religious would argue that the mental and emotional anguish of facing the wrath of the sacred is far worse than anything incurred by facing the wrath of the profane. I can imagine suffering such self-inflicted spiritual torment, however my question is, why would anyone consider this punishment enough? Surely the offending priest must be made to face both his God and the wrath of the human world?

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus, who when asked if believers should pay taxes remarked “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God, that which is God’s.” In other words, if you are going to traffic in Caesar’s coin in order to obtain what to you are benefits of some kind, then of course you   must be prepared to pay  Caesar’s taxes. It isn’t too much of a stretch to understand this as advice  on how to deal with far more than taxes. For example, if you are going to indulge yourself in exploiting children for your sexual satisfaction then you must be prepared to accept the human and worldly consequences of your human and worldly activity. You must render unto Caesar’s law that to which the law of Caesar is entitled, as well as answering to your god.

But I’m no theologian, and no doubt someone will tell me I can’t make that extrapolation. To which I would respond, why not?

Quite what punishment is inflicted upon the sexual offender by his confessor remains unknown, also subject to confidentiality . His crimes and his punishments are gilded with the sanctity of the confessional, and he remains unaccountable to any human being.

The Catholic church places its own laws (laws it then ascribes to God) above all else. This is unsatisfactory from any number of perspectives, not least that it places Catholic criminals beyond the reach of the law of the land. As we can see from the sad history of the serial offenders, these men don’t stop raping and sodomizing children, even, presumably, after they’ve confessed their crimes, done whatever the Catholic church regards as adequate penance for their crimes, and accepted forgiveness. They continue to offend against children, and they do it for years and years and years. Confession and penance means less than nothing to them. They make a mockery of their own rituals.

Perhaps they don’t confess their crimes in the first place? We have no way of knowing.

The victims of the pedophile priests are completely ignored. There is no concern for them, no efforts to assist them or rescue them from further rape and exploitation, because under the seal of the confessional, the perpetrator must be completely protected. The perpetrator’s rights to confidential confession trump children’s rights to be safe from sexual attackers. In what universe is this acceptable?

Father Frank Brennan, so far the only prominent Catholic priest to have fronted up to the ABC 7.30 Report to discuss these matters, declared that he would go to jail before revealing anything told to him under the seal of the confessional. Well, let him. Let the jails fill up with priests who’ve raped children, and priests who have protected priests who raped children so that they can continue raping children. I can say with the authority of experience that a few months in jail for Father Brennan or any other priest is as nothing, compared to being a raped child.

Pedophile priests make a mockery of the sanctity of confession, and a mockery of their God. Every priest who protects them adds to this mockery.

If priests continue to choose to put the law of their church before the well-being of children in their care, then jail would seem to me a reasonable outcome. The offences are committed in the spiritual and the human sphere, yet punished only in the spiritual. This is not good enough. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. God is already getting more than his fair share.

When the going gets tough where are the child advocates?

5 Jul

Child advocate Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, and advocate for girls Melinda Tankard Reist, have thus far been strangely silent on the Four Corners report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic church. As of ten minutes ago, I could find nothing on either of their websites.

While this particular program focused on the young male victims of pederast priests, young girls have also suffered their unwelcome and terrifying attentions, and one can legitimately assume that these crimes against the young of both genders fall within the ambit of the two child advocates.

Both women work tirelessly to halt what they perceive as the sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children and women in the media. While this is a legitimate concern in some instances, compared to the literal sexualisation and objectification of children perpetrated by pedophile rapists, Playboy flogging necklaces to little girls pales into insignificance. Particularly as a responsible adult is presumably involved in the purchase of these baubles, while no responsible adult is involved in the sodomization and rape of little girls and little boys.

Of course, we all have our own particular sphere of interest and expertise, and I’m not prescribing what Ms Gale and Ms Reist’s sphere should be. I am, however, gobsmacked that as very public child advocates with a very high profile in their field, they apparently don’t feel the need to comment on the Four Corners’ revelations on their websites.

There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to the abuse of children, and those who remain silent enable its continuation. The responsibility to speak is particularly onerous when one has a public platform as a child advocate.

I cannot imagine a more destructive form of sexualisation, objectification and pornification of children than sexual abuse.

Ms Gale’s motto, according to her website, is “What we allow is what we approve.” Indeed, that is so. Silence implies tacit approval. Or lack of courage. Or fear. Or cowardice. It really doesn’t imply concern or interest. Silence by those who should speak out causes untold damage to children already grievously harmed. Self-described child advocates ought to be at the forefront of protest, at the very least with an acknowledgment and expression of concern, and an intention to raise awareness.

Both Ms Gale and Ms Reist have a commendable record of success at persuading various commercial interests to stop selling this or that on the grounds that the product is damaging to children’s sexual develoment and self image. They have the infrastructure in place and the following, to launch a huge campaign on behalf of children who are being sexually abused. They have the means to launch a petition for a royal commission into the Catholic church’s abuse, and its cover up of that abuse. If they choose to use their power for that good. It would take an hour or so at the most. Then they could go back to their main interest: images of sexualisation, objectification and pornification, rather than the real thing in our own back yards.

Time to walk the talk, ladies?

Well, Cardinal Pell?

13 Apr

I’ve just read this piece in The Age titled “Church’s suicide victims.” It’s about a report from the Victorian police detailing the suicides of some forty victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and calling for an inquiry into these and other deaths thought to be related to childhood sexual abuse by priests. The article states: In a damning assessment of the church’s handling of abuse issues, the reports say it appears the church has known about a shockingly high rate of suicides and premature deaths but has “chosen to remain silent.”

I then read this article published in On Line Opinion earlier this year, in which the author explains why  in NSW the Catholic Church cannot be sued when its priests sexually abuse children:

Put simply (as Cardinal Pell would no doubt argue), the situation is that when a Catholic priest commits sexual abuse, it does not happen in the Catholic Church because there is no such thing. It happens instead in one of its unincorporated parts and therefore responsibility for its rests totally on members of that part, especially the perpetrator and those responsible for appointing or supervising him. That is to say, responsibility is completely limited to the parish, school, hospital or whatever is the unincorporated part in which it occurred.

As the trustees merely own the property within which the abuse occurred and have no responsibility whatsoever for appointing or supervising the perpetrator, they cannot be held responsible for the abuse he committed. Of course, victims are perfectly free to sue the perpetrator or the unincorporated part but they have no assets (the Trust has them all and anyway priests take a vow of poverty) so there is nothing to be gained by it.

It seems that where sexual abuse of children is concerned in NSW, the Catholic Church has two parts: one that does the damage and one that owns the wealth…

I then read this:

Matthew 18:6  But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Well, your Eminence?  What say you?

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