Archive | July, 2012

For all the babies

7 Jul

Especially this one: 

Because when the chips are down, what you need is a little bit of love. 

Forever Young

 Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

And for these big kids too:  

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?

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

A voice for the children, by Gerard

2 Jul

Guest post today by the lovely Gerard Oosterman who wonders why children don’t have more say in their future when a family breaks up.

Children should be seen but not heard?

In Australian Family Court disputes it is often the children who miss out on being heard by a Federal Judge or Magistrate. In most cases, even though the judge or magistrate has the power to hear the children, it is rarely exercised. It is usually the Independent Children’s Lawyer who represents the child/children/ (ICL).

In Germany and many other countries, the Family Court Judges always hear the child. There is a growing understanding of the importance of listening to the children involved. It is the child, more than anyone else, who will have to live with what the Court decides.

While Federal Judges and Magistrates can hear the children in Court, a survey has shown most decline the opportunity and rely on the ICL and other ‘experts’ for advice during the procedures. The cases coming before the Family Courts deal with property and access to children. The fact of Court action is generally a sign that the parents haven’t been able to amicably deal with the separation. Access rights to children are often just as heatedly fought over as the division of property.

The Family Court in all cases decides what is ‘best for the children.’ It seems ironic that in Australia the children are not given the opportunity to bring their wishes before the Court, as they are in many European countries that are signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

While it is unsatisfactory to say that children should all have the same rights as autonomous adults, including the rights of freedom of expression and the freedom of association and all other rights that adults own, it is equally unsatisfactory and unjust to say that children have no rights of this kind and that their rights in Court matters are irrelevant to the task of adults determining and deciding what is best. This seems to ignore the claim of children to be treated with respect and dignity instead of, as is often the case, fought over as objects

As Australia has been a signatory to the Convention since 1990, how do we explain why children are not heard in front of a Court and allowed to express their wishes?

Often the reason given is the fear of parentification of the child. This term describes a situation in which a role reversal occurs and children assume the role of parent to protect the adult. Asking a child to decide which parent she or he prefers to spend their time with can cause emotional turmoil.

In Family Court cases it is not unusual that one or both parents are deemed to have put the child in this position to try to enhance the prospect of getting more time with the child than the other parent. The child is expected to act as the parent to their own parent and sometimes over other siblings as well. The issue is very complicated because in some cases one of the parents might indeed be totally unsuitable as parent or as the primary caretaker.

However, parentification together with alienation theories about children in relationships remains highly controversial amongst psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists, who claim they are often simplistic or erroneous.

In the Family Courts it is the job of the ICL to sort the wheat from the chaff and investigate to get to the bottom of the issue if ‘parentification’ of the child is occurring. The Court appointed lawyer acting for the child will then call in an ‘expert’ in those matters. Both parents are to meet up with the ‘expert’ who is often a qualified child psychologist or therapist. Anyone who ever had dealings with Courts knows that at every turn huge amounts of money is spent. The ICL with the help of the Expert’s report weigh heavily in the final decision-making by the Judge or Magistrate.

The report by the children’s expert is drawn up as a result of a few hours or a day spent by both the parents and the children with the expert. Sometimes first in each other’s company then separately and then the children on their own. After parents as applicant and respondent  have filed into Courts numerous times for ‘mentioning’ and ‘final hearings’ the case is put and then includes the affidavits, responses and reports by all the parties’ lawyers including the ICL.

But, when all the lengthy proceedings come to an end, there is this glaring omission. The fundamental rights of every person including children to be heard in Court are totally ignored.

The ICL and other child experts cannot help but put in their own submissions and even if based on the best of intentions and the best advice given, it is second-hand and not direct. How is it possible that the ‘best interest of the child’ excludes this fundamental right?

One reason given is the perceived intimidation of the Court system with its tradition of the dreaded three knocks on the door and ‘all rise in Court’, the bowing of all and then the entrance of the black gowned judge or magistrate on the raised podium. The procedures are often seen as unfriendly if not silly as well. Surely the system can change when children are involved and become child friendly. I could ask, why not change it even for adults?

We love adhering to convention, but what about the children?

Gerard is an artist, writer and farmer. He blogs at Oosterman Treats Blog

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