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The Coalition Government’s proposed redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse is unjust and uncaring

By Elizabeth Reimer - posted Friday, 27 October 2017


The Coalition Government has ‘had to set boundaries’ to exclude some of the survivors of child sexual abuse perpetrated against them while under the care of adults in Australia’s institutions. Our Government has decided that some survivors of child sexual abuse institutions are deserving while others are not. The Government says they have to draw a boundary somewhere. They make it sound like they had no choice where to draw that boundary. Yet, they have made a choice. It is between who they deem to be deserving and underserving. They have made a choice to continue to abuse and discriminate against some people because they don’t agree with the behaviour of those people.

What the Government fails to acknowledge with this ‘boundary’ is that all of these people started out the same. They were kids going to church or to their youth group. They were kids joining a sports club to have fun, or become elite athletes. They were kids attending school, to get a good education and to strive to get a job. They were kids who has worries about what was going on in their lives, so sought advice and comfort from adults in their lives. And so on. They were kids trying to obediently do live the way adults in their lives told them was the right way to live.

The point is, they were all just being kids when they were predated on by the adults in their lives they had been taught you could trust. They were just being kids when they were told by other priests, police officers, nurses, counsellors, other teachers, youth group leaders and coaches, and their parents that “Oh, He’s a good bloke. He wouldn’t do something like that”. They were just being kids when they were disbelieved and rendered voiceless. Their obedience, ambition, hope and trust got them hurt. It got them hurt again when they were repeatedly disbelieved and sent back to the abuser to be abused again.

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These children did nothing wrong. They were obedient and trusting, yet they were molested by supposedly caring and trustworthy adults. The other adults in their lives did not protect them. They learned to survive any way they could. Why wouldn’t some learn that no adult could be trusted; that they have to fend for themselves? Why wouldn’t some learn to become people who were no longer obedient, who lost ambition, gave up hope, and no longer trusted people? Some went down a road of internal pain and despair, where they turned against themselves. Others lashed out against the social rules that had enabled them to be harmed, and were convicted for their ‘deviant’ behaviour.

What the Coalition’s proposal is continuing to say to these children, many of whom are now adults, is that it is your fault that you are in the situation you are now in, so why would you expect to be helped?

This is why I think the decision by the Coalition Government to continue to exclude these survivors is unjust and un-empathic. It shows that the Parliamentary representatives of those survivors don’t really understand the lived experience of those children who became the adults they are now excluding from financial recompense and therapeutic support to makes sense, and deal with the trauma, of their childhood experiences.

There are many boundaries the Australian Government can draw around how to help and show compassion for these survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. They could have done nothing - which has been the policy for many years. They could give something to those whom they consider, according to their own conservative middle-class values and assumptions, worthy because they haven’t pushed back against the rules of the society to deal with their trauma. Or, they could include all of those traumatised while under the care of adults in institutions just because they were sexually abused. This government is choosing the cheaper and more politically palatable boundary.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Reimer is a lecturer in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University. Elizabeth’s research includes family work, parent engagement in family services, child neglect, and workforce issues such as critical reflection. Recent research and publication activities relate to institutional child sexual abuse, parent engagement, critical reflection, and aspects of parent-worker relationships in social services.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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