Failing the most vulnerable

penny mulveyI have read three books over the last few weeks – two works of fiction and one non-fiction – all with a common thread, the treatment or mistreatment of children. During this time I also attended Case Study 56 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which focused on the Uniting Church in Australia.

Room is a 2010 novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue. It is both a harrowing and uplifting story told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, born into imprisonment after his mother had been abducted by a sexual predator seven years earlier. His account shows wonder and love of life, instilled by Ma, who has shielded him from the predator. Ma has provided education, routine, exercise and love all in a space the size of a backyard shed.

Tom Keneally draws on his intimate knowledge of the Catholic priesthood in Crimes of the Father (reviewed in this month’s Crosslight), a fictional account of a Catholic priest and psychologist who is determined to speak out about child sexual abuses committed by clergy. The story explores the impact of abuse at the hands of a single priest on three individuals.

The Family (also reviewed in Crosslight) is a true account of the Melbourne-based cult headed by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, which stole the childhood from 28 children who were literally plucked from maternity wards or surrendered by cult members in the 1960s and 1970s.

Last month the Royal Commission heard there had been more than 2500 incidents or allegations of child sexual abuse reported at an institution or place of worship of the Uniting Church since 1977.

What is clearly demonstrated by the evidence given over several years to the Royal Commission, and repeated by the child survivors of The Family, is that no matter how resilient children might be, the damage imposed in their formative years never goes away.

Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan’s apology at the Royal Commission is an essential step in this Church’s journey towards ensuring a safe environment for children.

“We are, and I am, deeply sorry that we didn’t protect and care in accordance with our Christian values for those children,” he said.

“And I want to acknowledge the impact that it’s had in the lives of those young people and to say I’m truly sorry.”

We all have a responsibility, both as individuals and within our corporate and community lives, to look out for children. Abuse against the innocent and trusting has been happening in our lifetime. It is never OK to look away. It is only as we all step up that abusive behaviours will be curtailed.


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