Tag Archives: Sexual abuse

George Pell. “These people.” Language. Yet Again.

28 May

This admission may not make me popular, however, as I watched Cardinal George Pell front the Victorian government inquiry into child sexual abuse yesterday, I felt an increasing pity for the man.

Pell can be found seriously wanting on any number of his attitudes and statements. It’s clear he has a minimum understanding of, or empathy with, those who’ve endured sexual abuse. The most that can be said for him is that he tries to the best of his extraordinarily limited ability, and that is damning him with very weak praise indeed. One would hope for more humanity, imagination and sincere regret from the country’s most senior member of the Catholic church.

However, it was a very simple phrase Pell used that provoked my deepest and most contemptuous reaction to the man. When speaking of survivors of rape and molestation by his priests, he more than once referred to them as “These people…” He even, at one particularly low point, suggested that “these people” were not always innocent of blame in the situation.

“These people” means people who are not like me, or us. Once again, as I pointed out in this piece on Clementine Ford’s use of “we” and “our” when discussing survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, language is (unconsciously) employed to manufacture a divide between those who have suffered and those who have not, casting the former as “other” who are, because of our experiences, linguistically excluded from the discourse of power and belonging, except as objects of sympathy or, in some instances, derision.

This attitude, widely held I believe towards victims and survivors of all kinds of situations, is what I think of as a vertical system of human relations, rather than a horizontal, or side by side system. Simply by virtue of finding oneself a victim of another, one is in some way made less equal to those who are without that experience. One is assumed to be weakened, and therefore lessened, by the experience of being injured.

Being injured is among many other things, a humiliating experience. It brings into stark relief our vulnerability and powerlessness. It makes obvious how easily our will can be overwhelmed by the will of another, leaving us impotent, weakened and ashamed, whether we’re adults or children when the injuries occur.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons some of the uninjured need to distance themselves from the injured, is that we frighten them. We confront them with the awful reality of the human vulnerability we share. This could have been, could still be,   you. The only way to avoid that reality is to make the injured different. Certain kinds of injuries only happen to “these people.”  Not to “we” or “ours.”

We also see this manifest in our treatment of asylum seekers.

It’s interesting, and rather disheartening, that two people with such disparate views as Clementine Ford and George Pell choose vertical language when speaking of victims/survivors of sexual assaults.

I felt surprisingly little anger as I watched George Pell deliver his inadequate responses to the Victorian government inquiry. I felt extremely weary. I thought I could see, not for the first time, the entire dysfunctional hierarchical system that allows this man, and others like him, to construct a narrative that is corrupt to its core. I don’t only refer to the Catholic church. I’m talking about the corrupt system of human relations that is based on the othering  of one group of human beings to separate them from another, no matter what the grounds. As is demonstrated in our language, this othering is endemic, even in the most apparently well-intentioned.

I’ll have to leave it to others to rage against Pell. I see a crippling, piteous ignorance that will imprison this man for the rest of his life. That this should be so publicly displayed is, to my mind, only to the good. We need to see the characters of men and women who wield power over us, of those who control our discourse and construct our realities. Victims and survivors, most of all, need to see that these emperors have no clothes.

 

Abbott on Pell: “One of the greatest churchmen Australia has seen.”

4 Jul

When I saw Cardinal Pell on Qanda a couple of months ago, I felt a kind of  appalled pity for the man.

Pity, I hasten to add, is not an emotion I enjoy, based as it is in disinterested contempt, and complete lack of interest in its object’s fate. When I pity someone, they are pretty much dead to me.

Pell seemed subject to moments of confusion and rather bad judgement.

Then, in the ABC Four Corners report this past Monday on the sexual abuse of children by priests of his church, Pell again seemed quite out of his depth, and rigidly adhering to a well-worn script.

Pell clings to his belief in the word of three priests, even though there is very strong evidence to the contrary, including an admission in court by an accused rapist, Father F, that he did indeed perform some of the criminal acts of which he stands accused.

Pell was himself accused of sexually molesting a child,as is discussed here in an 2008 interview conducted by ABC journalist Ali Moore with former priest and now commentator Dr Paul Collins. Reading this 2008 interview I was struck by the similarities. Four years later, Cardinal Pell does not seem to have changed his perspective, in spite of more ghastly revelations about the behaviours of his priests, and the number of suicides thought to be related to sexual abuse.

I’m sometimes undecided as to who is the worst offender: the perpetrator or those who cover up for the perpetrator. I can only imagine the number of little kids whose lives would have been so different if the church authorities who knew about the pederasts in their ranks had taken proper action. Proper action in this instance is informing the police, however the Catholic church seems loathe to concede that sexually molesting a child is a crime, and treat it accordingly.

I note here that Cardinal Pell was very, very quick to threaten legal action against Catherine Deveney when he felt she had slandered him in a tweet. His reputation apparently warranted the protection of the law, unlike the lives of the children whose rape and molestation his church failed to report to the police.

As far as the mistreatment of children is concerned, I’m of the opinion that there are no innocent bystanders. Everyone who has anything to do with children professionally is required by law to report suspicions of abuse. This ought to include the Catholic church. When anyone knows something bad is happening to a child and keeps it quiet, she or he is enabling the perpetrators. The church takes that one step further and protects them as well.

It is my hope that like the US, it will be possible in this country to charge Catholic bishops and hold them criminally liable for the behaviours of the priests they supervise.

In the meantime I take my hat off to the ABC journalists who are persisting with this story, as well as other stories of child abuse. As a survivor, it does my heart good to know there are people willing to pursue these criminals and uncover their crimes. It is very difficult to speak about these things when you’ve endured them. We need others to help. We need others to confront and challenge those who would be innocent bystanders, and in their denial and silence, enable abuse to continue. I know it’s awful to have to listen to these things. But it is far, far worse to experience them.  Thank you to everyone with the courage to listen and care, and say so.

Finally, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is credited here with having described Cardinal George Pell as ” one of the greatest churchmen Australia has seen.” If this is a measure of Abbott’s ability to judge character, and an example of someone he profoundly admires, I fear even more for our future should he become the next Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott, trainee priest, St Patrick’s Seminary

“Art is dangerous. Art is not chaste” Robert Crumb and the anti child abuse campaigner

20 Aug

The recent Sunday Telegraph campaign against graphic artist Robert Crumb’s proposed participation in an exhibition at the Sydney Opera House, used the opinions of anti child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnson to infer that Crumb’s work is complicit in creating communities that are unsafe for children and should be banned.

The Tele apparently faxed Ms Johnson (who had previously never heard of the artist) a few copies of Crumb’s cartoons, leading her to decide that: ”the Sydney Opera House is endorsing the depraved thought processes of this very warped human being. These cartoons are not funny or artistic – they are just crude and perverted images emanating from what is clearly a sick mind.”

Crumb cancelled his trip, giving reasons in this open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Anti child abuse campaigners like Ms Johnson have an important role to play in any community. Children must not be abused. We must do everything we can to address child abuse of every kind wherever we find it, because we are cruel and inhuman if we don’t.

But it’s a symptom of psychosis to mistake illusion for reality. Campaigners such as Ms Johnson are striving to impose a psychotic world view when they campaign against images such as those produced by Crumb, and closer to home, Bill Henson. Such campaigners necessarily view the world around them through the eyes of those who are sexually aroused by children. They seek in images of all kinds what they imagine paedophiles desire. They assume these images will provoke undesirable action in their viewers. They have no basis for these assumptions. They have no evidence. They simply object.

After working for many years with survivors of childhood sexual assault, I can attest that one can eventually see suspicious behaviour everywhere, in the most innocent of gestures, and on reaching that point a sensible practitioner knows it’s time to take a break. Yes, there are adults who abuse children. No, it’s not everybody. Yes there are images that paedophiles seek out and exchange. No, they are not every image in art or advertising that feature children.

These efforts by campaigners to colonise the public gaze have nothing whatsoever to do with preventing child abuse. Children are overwhelmingly sexually abused by people they know, frequently close family members. They are not necessarily abused by sexually crazed admirers of Robert Crumb and Bill Henson, or even by those sad human beings who earn their livelihood designing “sexy” underwear for little girls, and the even sadder mothers who buy it for them.

Here, I have to say that I don’t find the linked advertisements guilty of “sexualizing” the young models. I believe we need a conversation about what is and isn’t sexy and to whom, because it seems to me that campaigners are adopting a definition of “sexy” that is not necessarily shared by the whole community.

I find these images of the girls silly and sad. There’s not one thing that’s “sexy”about them. They are degrading not because they sexualize, but because they commodify. The young girls’ beauty is not sexualized, it is ruthlessly co-opted and exploited to sell product. The girls are dehumanized because of this, as are we all to varying degrees by the capitalist society in which we live.

It’s also worthy of note that these campaigners cannot, apparently, achieve their goals without perpetuating and trafficking in the “offensive” images. So on websites such as that belonging to Melinda Tankard Reist you will find links to purported “evidence” of the “sexualization” of young girls, sometimes tantalizingly prefaced by comments such as “if you can bear to look.” Unless you are willing to take Reist’s word for it, you have to open the links.

Without public outrage, these campaigners will cease to exist. They have everything invested in encouraging the viewing and sharing of the images they condemn. The question must be asked, are they too engaged in the process of commodification and exploitation of the child models? Is this the underlying reason why they are unable to address these matters as corporate and consumer issues?

What campaigners such as Hetty Johnson and Tankard Reist are actually engaged in are diversionary tactics. In blaming the art they do not understand for creating a climate in which the so-called “sexualization” of children is promoted and nurtured, they are distracting attention from the real culprits: corporations and consumers. Human beings have long been reduced to the status of a commodity in the interests of profit. Greed, not paedophilia underpins the increasing  sexualization of children. The personal worth of adults has long been measured by their exchange value: it was only a matter of time before this extended itself to the imposition on children of  impoverished and crude adult notions of what is “sexy,” designed purely to extend the profitability of human exploitation and commodification.

Back to Robert Crumb. Crumb’s work is a fine example of the power of catharsis. The artist owns himself as “weird,” highly anxious and neurotic, and possessing a vividly boisterous sexual imagination. These characteristics imbue his work with powerful feeling, and viewing Crumb’s images is often a disturbing experience.

But remember: “Art is dangerous,” Picasso claimed. “Art is never chaste. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”

The artist’s job is often to expose to the rest of us what we might not want to see or acknowledge as human. The best artists won’t flinch in their task of expressing what we would most like to deny about humanity. Those who are too afraid to rise to the artist’s challenge will demand censorship. They will clamour for the silencing of the artist’s imagination because, they claim, there is an inherent link between the imagination, and the acting out of imaginative visions. In other words, they take Picasso’s claim that art is dangerous far too literally.

Art is dangerous to the closed mind. Art can take us to emotional experiences and spiritual realisations that are not always easy and comfortable. But art will not turn us into paedophiles. The horrifying photographic images of sexually exploited and tormented children passed around a paedophile ring are not art.

While the artist may be expressing a personal vision, the fact that others can identify with and appreciate the artwork transforms the personal into the universal. Finding imaginative ways in which to safely express the darker and more dangerous emotions is the cathartic experience, and the cathartic experience is one that can enable a safe release of unconscious conflicts in the viewer as well as the artist. This is the power of art, and I include in the category of “art” all mediums of expression. Dark and dangerous emotions are human. They demand acknowledgement and safe expression. Art offers safe emotional release, both in its making and its appreciation.

This is the experience campaigners such as Johnson and Tankard-Reist wish to deny us. Trapped in a spiral of denial, they need to universalize their positions in order to feel validated. They need us all to agree with their critical judgements. They demand that we all adopt the paedophile’s gaze, and interpret the art that surrounds us, whatever its form, through that lens. They do not discriminate, their responses are formulaic and tiresome: if it is weird and sick to them, it has to be weird and sick to everyone, and the weird and sick must be silenced and denied.

What currently passes for “sexy” in our culture seems to me to be highly unsubtle, crude and largely uninteresting. Yet these campaigners have somehow managed to turn this one-dimensional representation of human sexuality into a cultural threat of nuclear proportions, especially for our children. Artists such as Crumb and Henson, of all people, have been caught up in this manufactured threat.

Campaigners themselves insist on reproducing many of the very images they decry, because, they claim, people must see them in order to be able to protest them. Outrage is their weapon of choice, and they must create enough of it to bring about their censorship goals.

Yet all they ever achieve is a band-aid solution. They do not address the underlying issues. They do not go deeply into the immorality of the increasing commodification of the human. They do not address a global economy that survives only as long as we all consume as much as is possible for as long as we are alive, making the construction of new markets an absolute necessity, even when that market is children and childhood. They do not address the complicity and collusion of mothers and caregivers in the sexualization and commodification of children and childhood. They do attack art, in all its forms, because that is easy.

The conflation of the “sexualization” of children and paedophilia with the perceived dangers of art needs to be challenged and resisted whenever it rears its hydra-head. The real role of anti child abuse campaigners is to work for educative and economic services that will help protect children, and that will offer accessible services for adults recovering from the frequently life long aftermath of childhood abuse.

There is no place for these campaigners as arbiters in the world of art. They have proved over and over again that their perspective is warped and one-dimensional, and that censorship is their only response to expressions of the human that they do not understand.

Accolade for the AFP

16 Jun

Australian Federal Police this week busted a paedophile ring, seizing images of child sexual abuse including rape, bondage and torture. Watching the AFP spokesman at the press conference held to announce the seizures, I couldn’t help but wonder, how do they do it?

How do the men and women of the AFP deal with viewing images that are any reasonable person’s worst nightmare, as part of their daily routine?

I’ve experienced a fair bit of secondary post traumatic stress as a consequence of working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse. You have to be able to go there, you don’t flinch, you don’t turn away, you’re the listener who shares the journey. Looking into the dark side takes its toll: it’s powerful, it’s scary, and you underestimate it at your peril.

I’ve never had to look at anything like the horrors the AFP uncover. How do they feel when they go home at night, their minds crowded with images of rape and torture of the young? How do they manage to have any faith in human nature, after seeing first hand what human beings are capable of?

The Internet offers the ideal environment for paedophiles to connect with each other and engage in their vile commerce. Keeping pace with their proliferation must in itself be a challenging task.

Many of us would find it impossible to view images child pornographers disseminate, especially those at the far end of the continuum. Even thinking about what they might look like makes my gut churn in protest. It takes a certain type of courage and a rare kind of determination to commit your working life to bringing these people down.

It isn’t a job that brings them glory, and mostly we never see their faces.

For my money, if anyone deserves the term unsung heroes it’s these women and men. I think we should all honour them for their willingness to descend into the abyss and fight the monsters that dwell down there. If anyone renews my faith in human nature, it’s people who’ll face down the dark side in the interests of us all, and particularly in the interests of the most innocent and the most vulnerable among us.

So this post is dedicated to the men and women of the AFP who take on this battle. I salute you.

Government’s brand new 12 year plan to end domestic violence is already out of date

20 Mar

by Laurent Fintoni via flickr

 

Kate Ellis, Minister for the Status of Women, launched a 12-year national plan last month that is designed to reduce violence against women and children.

The plan is based on research that indicates as many as one in three Australian women will experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse by men during their lifetimes.

The plan expresses the intention to address social norms and practices, rigid beliefs about gender role expectations and cultural values, all of which contribute to a society in which violence against women and children is endemic.

Currently, there are more reported assaults on women by men.

However, what the plan completely neglects to address is that there is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence that women are the primary perpetrators of the emotional abuse of children, with disastrous and long-lasting effects.

Any 12-year national plan to prevent violence against children should include proper and full investigation into this type of child abuse. Why doesn’t this one?

Paucity of empirical research

While there are studies on female violence against male partners, it’s difficult to find current research on the occurrence and effects of maternal emotional abuse on children, and on the adults they become. Research has lagged behind clinical experience, notes the author of this 2007 study and there is a relative paucity of empirical data.

Yet there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence to be found on the long-term effects of maternal emotional abuse on the development of children, and on their adult lives.

There are thousands of personal stories of emotional abuse – maternal bullying, attacks on the young child’s self esteem, the long-term consequences of being raised by a narcissistic mother for whom one is little more than an accessory in public, and an emotional whipping post in private. This clinical term has been colloquially adopted as shorthand for maternal emotional abuse.

There are 10 Google pages dedicated to the term, and a further 10 pages dedicated to maternal emotional abuse.

The term “narcissistic mothers” sits comfortably with increased societal concerns about the “sexualisation” of young children, specifically when young girls are dressed and made up as if they were adult women.

Campaigners such as the Australian Christian Lobby and Melinda Tankard Reist express profound and I believe legitimate concerns about this increasing practise.

However, the elephant in the room is that mothers and female caregivers overwhelmingly purchase and dress young girls in this manner. Reist, the ACL, and many other campaigners apparently find it easier to lay all blame at the door of various media and advertising outlets.

They neglect to mention the responsibility mothers and female caregivers must bear for purchasing these products, and choosing to dress their little girls like adult women.

It’s reasonable to investigate the possibility that such mothers and caregivers are indeed abusively acting out their own narcissistic and unrealised desires through their little girls.

The stories of maternal abuse are out there

The long-term consequences of maternal abuse

Maternal abuse is a broad predictor of adult dysfunction in the areas of relatedness, identity, affect regulation, abandonment concerns, and borderline and anti-social features. Briere and Rickards found that “high paternal support did not appear to reduce the negative effects of maternal abuse”.

On the matter of childhood sexual abuse the authors note: For example, the current results suggest that childhood sexual abuse, although significantly related to impaired self-capacities, is second to the effects of childhood maternal abuse. (emphasis mine.) Such data does not mean that sexual abuse is less than psychologically toxic, but rather that another form of child maltreatment—one less addressed in the literaturemay be even more traumagenic. Additional study is clearly indicated to determine the reasons (whether biological, attachment-related, or sociocultural) for this specific effect.

The area is almost a professional and wider societal no-go zone – so thoroughly has feminism succeeded in creating the belief that the perpetration of intra-familial abuse is a primarily male phenomenon. Yet there are many, many women and men who experientially know this is not so. Why don’t feminists who are in a position to do so, validate this experiential knowledge, and clamour for empirical research?

W Kierski addresses professional reluctance in his paper ‘Female violence: can we therapists face up to it?” This link appears to come and go, but Google “female violence” and you’ll find this paper, and 11 further pages with both scholarly and anecdotal material on the topic.

The reality many feminists resist

Together with society’s reluctance to consider that mothers are anything but good, as well as the difficulties of identifying what can seem, compared to physical injuries, a nebulous concept of emotional maltreatment, this area of abuse receives far less attention than others. It is described by some mental health professionals as the “hidden” form of maltreatment.

Unpopular as this notion might be, it’s my opinion that feminism has created a simplistic but powerful binary narrative in which men are perpetrators and women are victims. This has now hardened into a rigid gender role expectation.

There is very little room in this story for the reality of female violence against male partners, against other women, and against children, unless a woman murders them or otherwise physically abuses them in a manner worthy of media attention. These women are then cast in the role of the extremely bad mother, and frequently subjected to vitriolic public attacks.

Yet victims can also be perpetrators, regardless of their gender. This is the reality many feminists resist, to the detriment of all of us, and in particular, our children.

The halcyon days of brilliant feminist scholarship and subsequent ground breaking cultural change are over. The once inspirational ideology has degenerated into little more than housework and lipstick cat fights.

The first feminist clique to address the issue of maternal emotional abuse, and lobby for urgent and comprehensive research into its occurrences and effects, will receive my support. Feminists have always led the way in addressing domestic violence perpetrated by men – now it’s time  for women to address intimate partner violence and child abuse by women.

This is not something women would accept being addressed by men. It can only be seriously addressed by women ourselves.

What we know so far is that there is very good reason to investigate. If further study bears out the 2007 Briere and Rickards’ data, we are looking at a profoundly significant determiner of adult well being, one at least equal in its probabilities of long-term damage to male perpetrated domestic violence, and the sexual assault of children.

Facing up to and addressing maternal emotional abuse is quite possibly feminism’s next frontier, and if the sisters baulk at it and stay with the trivia, then what is feminism really good for in 2011?

WHAT THE NATIONAL PLAN SAYS

The definition of domestic violence used in the new 12 year National Plan announced by Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, last month, does not acknowledge any familial abuse other than that perpetrated by men:

Domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship. While there is no single definition, the central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear, for example by using behaviour which is violent and threatening. In most cases, the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children, and can be both criminal and non-criminal.

Read: “in most cases the central element of domestic violence is violent male behaviour” towards women and “their children.”

Female violence against intimate male partners, well researched for quite some years now, and alleged by some researchers to be as common as male violence, and often differently expressed, is inexplicably omitted.

Maternal violence of any kind against children is omitted, though paternal or male violent behaviours against “women’s” children are included in the definition.

Further in the document we find this:

It [the Plan] will look at building positive attitudes and beliefs, social norms and ways for organisations to confront controlling, macho, aggressive and ultimately violent behaviour.

Read: “Violent male behaviour, because with “macho” in there, what else could it be?

The vision of the National Plan is that: ‘Australian women and their children live free from violence in safe communities.’

Read: “free from male violence” as female violence is not acknowledged in the definition.

And then: Values and Principles are: Responses to children exposed to violence prioritise the safety and long term well-being of children.

Read: “Responses to children exposed to male violence’, as female violence is not acknowledged in the definition.

And then: Protecting Children: Physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence are now all recognised as forms of child abuse and neglect. In April 2009, COAG endorsed Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business—National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020. This framework is aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect in Australia over time. The National Plan and the National Framework are designed to work in tandem to bring about positive change for women and children experiencing violence.

Read “ experiencing male violence.”

The linking of the two plans suggests the National Framework might also be based on an interpretation of domestic violence as male violence. I haven’t checked. I hope I’m wrong.

And: The primary objective of perpetrator interventions is to ensure the safety of women and their children.

Read: “Male perpetrator interventions”

The examples are numerous. See:

http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/women/progserv/violence/nationalplan/Pages/default.aspx

We need a plan that addresses violence perpetrated on children by both women and men that includes physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence.

We need research into maternal emotional abuse of children. We need research into female intimate violence. We need a plan that acknowledges the realities of domestic violence, not one based entirely on out-dated stereotypes of gendered violence.

After forty years of treating domestic violence as a male only phenomenon, there has been no significant decrease in violence and child abuse statistics. This indicates that there is something we are not investigating, and female violence against intimate partners and children is very likely it.

%d bloggers like this: