Childhood abuse never ended for thousands of Australian adults

PHOTO After surviving years of abuse at the hands of her family, Sarah has started a family of her own. ABC NEWS: TRACEY SHELTON

Sarah is living proof that “life after hell” is possible. 

For more than 20 years she says she endured beatings, rape and degradation at the hands of her family.

She tells of being locked in sheds, made to eat from a dog’s bowl and left tied to a tree naked and alone in the bush.

Her abusers spanned three generations and included her grandfather, father and some of her brothers. She has scars across her body.

“This is from a whipper snipper,” she says, pointing to a deep gouge of scar tissue wrapped around the back of her ankle. Higher up is another she says was caused by her father’s axe.


Family violence support services:


But Sarah survived.

Now she is speaking out in the hope of empowering others trapped in abusive situations. 

“There is life after hell, but you need to learn how to believe in yourself,” she says.

A reality for many Australian adults

As confronting as Sarah’s case may be, she is not alone. 

While most people assume child abuse ends at adulthood, it can bring control, fear and manipulation that can last a lifetime.

Incestuous abuse into adulthood affects roughly 1 in 700 Australians, according to research by psychiatrist Warwick Middleton — one of the world’s leading experts in trauma and dissociation. If that estimate is accurate, tens of thousands of Australian adults like Sarah are being abused by family members into their 20s or even up to their 50s.

PHOTO Warwick Middleton is one of the world’s leading experts in trauma and dissociation. ABCNEWS Tracey Shelton

“It’s a mechanism of ongoing conditioning that utilises every human’s innate attachment dynamics, and where fear and shame are used prominently to ensure silence — particularly shame,” says Professor Middleton, an academic at the University of Queensland and a former president of the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation.

He has personally identified almost 50 cases among his patients, yet there was no literature or studies on this kind of abuse when he began publishing his findings.

Hidden in ‘happy’ families, successful careers

Sydney criminologist Michael Salter has found similar patterns in his own research. He said cases of incest are “fairly likely” to continue into adulthood, but this extreme form of domestic abuse is unrecognised within our health and legal systems.

“It’s unlikely that these men are going to respect the age of consent,” says Mr Salter, who is an associate professor of criminology at Western Sydney University. “It doesn’t make sense that they would be saying, ‘Oh you’re 18 now so I’m not going to abuse you anymore’. We’re just not having a sensible conversation about it.”

The ABC spoke with 16 men and women who described being abused from childhood into adulthood.

They said their abusers included fathers, step-fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings and uncles.

Medical and police reports, threatening messages and photos of the abuse supported these accounts. Some family members also confirmed their stories.

PHOTO Sarah’s father often recorded the abuse. This image is the first in a series of five she discovered in the family home.

Sarah says her father and his friends photographed some of her abuse. One image shows her beaten and bloodied with a broken sternum at five. In another photo (pictured here), she cowers as her father approaches with a clenched fist.

Most victims described their families as “well-respected” and outwardly “normal-looking”, yet for many the abuse continued well after their marriage and the birth of their own children, as they navigated successful careers. 

“You see a lot of upper-income women who are medical practitioners, barristers, physiatrists — high functioning in their day-to-day lives — being horrifically abused on the weekends by their family,” Mr Salter says.

Helen, a highly successful medical professional, says she hid sexual abuse by her father for decades.

“They didn’t see the struggle within,” she says. 

A mental ‘escape’

Professor Middleton describes abuse by a parent as “soul destroying”. In order to survive psychologically, a child will often dissociate from the abuse.

Compartmentalising memories and feelings can be an effective coping strategy for a child dependent on their abuser, says Pam Stavropoulos, head of research at the Blue Knot Foundation, a national organisation that works with the adult survivors of childhood trauma.

‘I learnt to disappear’

Like a “shattered glass”, three women discuss the myths and challenges of living with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

The extreme and long-lasting nature of ongoing abuse can result in dissociative identity disorder, which on the one hand can shield a victim from being fully aware of the extent of the abuse but can also leave them powerless to break away, Ms Stavropoulos says.

Claire*, 33, describes her dissociation as both her greatest ally and her worst enemy.

“You feel like you’ve keep it so secret that you’ve fooled the world and you’ve fooled yourself,” she says.

In her family, women — her mother and grandmother — have been the primary physical and sexual abusers and she says some of her abuse is ongoing.

“In a way you have freedom, but at the same time you are trapped in a nightmare,” she says.

‘It’s like he’s melted into my flesh’

For many, the attachment to an abuser can be so strong, they lose their own sense of identity.

Kitty, who was abused by her father for more than five decades until his recent death, says she did everything her family said to try to win their love.

“I thought I was some kind of monster because I still love my father,” she says. “It’s like he’s melted into my flesh. I can feel him. He is always here.”

Raquel’s rage grew from her family’s dark past

Four years into my relationship with my new partner, I realised I was continuing a cycle of abuse. I am a survivor of family sexual abuse who was raised by a child molesterer, and I was releasing my rage on the closest person to me, writes Raquel O’Brien.

Mr Salter says the conditioning is difficult to undo, and often leaves a victim vulnerable to “opportunistic abuse” and violent relationships.

“If the primary deep emotional bond that you forge is in the context of pain and fear then that is how you know that you matter,” he says. “It’s how you know that you are being seen by someone.”

Many of those the ABC spoke with were also abused by neighbours or within the church or school system. Others married violent men.

“They don’t have the boundaries that people normally develop,” Mr Salter says, adding that parental abuse could leave them “completely blind to obvious dodgy behaviour because that’s what’s normal for them”.

‘You believe they own your body’

Professor Middleton said premature exposure to sex confuses the mind and the body and leaves a child vulnerable to involuntary sexual responses that perpetrators will frequently manipulate to fuel a sense of shame, convincing them they “want” or “enjoy” the abuse.

For Emma*, violent sexual assaults and beatings at home began when she was five and are continuing more than 40 years later.

“When you are naked, beaten, humiliated and showing physical signs of arousal, it really messes with your head. It messes with your sexuality,” she says.

“Your sense of what is OK and what isn’t becomes really confused. You come to believe that they literally own you and own your body. That you don’t deserve better than this.”

A medical report viewed by ABC shows Emma required a blood transfusion last month after sustaining significant internal tissue damage from a sharp object. The report stated Emma had a history of “multiple similar assaults”.

She said medical staff do want you to get help and sometimes offered to call police.

“What they don’t understand is that for me police are not necessarily a safe option,” she says.

As a teenager she had tried to report to the police, but was sent back home to face the consequences.

She said a “lack of understanding about the dynamics of abuse and the effects of trauma” mean victims rarely get the response and help they need.

While Emma has been unable to escape the abuse, she has made many sacrifices to shelter her children from it. But they still suffer emotionally, she says.

“It makes it hard for anyone who cares about you having to watch you hurt over and over again.”

Incest after marriage and kids

For Graham, it was devastating to find out his wife Cheryl* was being sexually abused by both her parents 10 years into their marriage.

“I had no idea it was going on,” he says, of the abuse that continued even after the birth of their children. “The fight between wanting to kill [her father] and knowing it’s wrong wasn’t fun. I don’t think people know what stress is unless they’ve been faced with something like that.”

With Graham’s support, the family cut contact with his in-laws. He says the fallout of this abuse ripples through society impacting everyone around both the abused and the abuser.

Mr Salter urges anyone suffering abuse to reach out for help, and for those around them to be supportive and non-judgemental.

“You can get out — don’t take no for an answer. Keep fighting until you find someone who is going to help you keep fighting,” he says.

A new life

Sarah met Professor Middleton after a suicide attempt at 14, but it took many years for her to trust and accept that things could change.

“I just couldn’t grasp I was free. It didn’t matter what anyone did,” she says. 

“I still felt overall that my family was in control of me and at any moment they could kill me.”

Through therapy with Professor Middleton — who she spoke of as the only father figure she has ever known — and the support of her friends and partner, Sarah finally broke away from her abusive family to start a new life of her own.

“You need people to help you through it. In the same way that it took other people to cause you the pain, it takes new people to replace them and help you give yourself another go,” she says.

“If I can give hope to one other person out there, then all my years of pain will not have been for nothing.”

*name changed to protect identity

https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-01/family-sex-abuse-survivor-took-rage-out-on-partner/10155992

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Terminology, Key Messages & What is Child Abuse & Neglect?

What is child abuse and neglect? 

CFCA Resource Sheet— September 2018

If you require assistance or would like to talk to a trained professional about the issues described in this paper, please call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you believe a child is in immediate danger call Police on 000.

Overview

The purpose of this resource sheet is to provide practitioners, policy makers and researchers with a working definition of child abuse and neglect. It provides a general definition of child abuse and neglect and definitions of the five commonly regarded subtypes.

The resource sheet provides information about: whether the abuse types constitute grounds for protection of a child under child protection law; and whether the abuse types are a crime under criminal law, with the possibility of punishment of the offender.

Introduction

For individuals working with children, it is important to be able to recognise child abuse and neglect when they come across it. For example, if a practitioner knows that, or has reason to believe that, a child is being hit or disciplined in a concerning way, the first question the practitioner must ask themselves – is this, or might this be, child abuse? If a practitioner believes or suspects child abuse or neglect, then a report must be made to child protection or the police (for more detail, see Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect).

Throughout this resource sheet, the term ‘children and young people’ is used. Although young people under the age of 18 are legally children (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2018)1, calling a young person a child can fail to acknowledge some important differences between children and young people, such as the difference in their desire and capacity for self-determination.

It is important to note that within much of the professional literature the terms ‘child abuse and neglect’ and ‘child maltreatment’ are used interchangeably. In this resource sheet, the term ‘child abuse and neglect’ is adopted because this is the term that is most commonly used in Australia.

Definition

The World Health Organization ([WHO], 2006, p. 9) defines child abuse and neglect as:

All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.

Definitions of child abuse and neglect can include adults, young people and older children as the perpetrators of the abuse. It is commonly stated in legislation that the term ‘child abuse and neglect’ refers to behaviours and treatment that result in the actual and/or likelihood of harm to the child or young person. Furthermore, such behaviours may be intentional or unintentional and can include acts of omission (i.e. neglect) and commission (i.e. abuse) (Bromfield, 2005; Child Family Community Australia [CFCA], 2016).

Legal definitions of child abuse and neglect

Definitions of child abuse and neglect can be both legal and medical/psychological. Legal definitions tend to be broad, while medical definitions (such as what is provided by WHO, 2006) usually provide a more detailed explanation.

The way legislation defines child abuse and neglect matters. These laws have a direct influence on the outcomes of cases that are brought before a court. Legal definitions affect the attitudes and decisions of lawyers and judges. They affect the policies and practices of child protection agencies, and the training and attitudes of practitioners generally (Tomison & Tucci, 1997). They also set out acceptable standards of behaviour for the community (Australian Law Reform Commission [ALRC], 2010; Mathews & Bross, 2014).

There are two legal systems set up to respond to and prevent child abuse and neglect (ALRC, 2010; Plum, 2014):

  • the civil legal system
  • the criminal legal system.

The differences between the two legal systems are outlined in Table 1.

Table 1: Differences between the civil and criminal legal systems
  Civil child protection law Criminal child protection law
Focus Focus is on the future: the child’s safety and best interests Focus is on the past: judging the guilt of the accused
Outcome Decision about whether the child is in need of protection Punishment of the offender, which may involve incarceration
Standard of proof Lower standard of proof: ‘On the balance of probabilities’ Higher standard of proof: ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’

Child protection proceedings focus on whether the child is in need of protection (ALRC, 2010; Plum, 2014). They do not make a judgment about the guilt of an accused. For example, a child may have alleged sexual abuse by a parent. Although the truth of these allegations is clearly relevant to the child’s future safety, the focus of the child protection court is solely on the child’s future safety. The criminal court may have judged an individual innocent of the crime of child sexual abuse but this does not mean that the civil child protection courts cannot make a ruling about the future safety of the child.

A child protection response is not, nor should it be, contingent on securing a conviction. (ALRC, 2010, p. 939).

Criminal proceedings focus on judging the guilt of the accused, with the outcome providing for the punishment of the offender. Criminal proceedings generally focus on the past. An exception to this is the placement of a convicted child sex offender on a sex offender register, which is future focused and based on crimes the offender may commit in the future (Plum, 2014).

Subtypes of child abuse and neglect

Different types of child abuse and neglect have different features. It is important to distinguish between what are commonly regarded as the five main subtypes of child abuse and neglect:

  1. physical abuse
  2. emotional abuse
  3. neglect
  4. sexual abuse
  5. exposure to family violence.

The features of these subtypes are detailed below. Box 1 unpacks some of the difficulties and controversies around defining these five subtypes. 


Box 1: Difficulties and controversies around defining the subtypes

Although there is a broad consensus on the five subtypes of child abuse and neglect (see below), disagreement exists about exactly how to define and therefore recognise these subtypes. For example:

  • Parenting practices that are acceptable in one culture may be considered abusive in another culture. Some parenting practices are abusive regardless of culture. It can be difficult to know the difference.
  • There is debate in the literature (Broadley, 2014) – and variation across Australian jurisdictions (CFCA, 2016) – on whether definitions of child abuse should refer to the parental behaviours or to the harm to the child, or whether evidence of both should be required for its recognition (e.g. do we need to know that a parent has hit a child and for there to be a resulting injury to constitute physical abuse?).
  • Sometimes it can be difficult to know whether the parental behaviours are harmful enough to constitute child abuse. For example, in neglect cases practitioners can have different perceptions about what constitutes ‘good enough’ parenting (Turney, Platt, Selwyn, & Farmer, 2012).
  • The child protection legislation used in many Australian jurisdictions defines child abuse as a behaviour or action that causes a child significant harm. It can be difficult to know the point at which a child is suffering significant harm.
  • The child protection legislation used in many Australian jurisdictions also defines child abuse as a behaviour that is likely to cause significant harm. However, it can be difficult, even impossible, to predict whether a child who is apparently suffering no harm or suffering minor harm is likely to suffer significant harm in the future.
  • There is also the tricky issue of intent. Although there is no consensus among experts about whether the intent to cause harm is a necessary component of child abuse and neglect, some suggest that notions of culpability, motive and intent are important to many practitioners when making decisions about whether to describe an incident as child abuse and neglect (Platt & Turney, 2013).
  • Many parents who neglect their children do not intend to do so. Many of these parents struggle with issues such as poverty or a disability. When these issues are present, there is a responsibility on the state to provide support and assistance to the family. Are there limits on what support and assistance the state is to be expected to give?
  • Is child abuse and neglect an objective or subjective reality? For example, if legislators, policy makers and practitioners say that a sexual ‘relationship’ between a 19 year old and a 15 year old is sexual abuse but the 15 year old says that it is not, whose opinion holds the most weight? How might these judgements change as the age gap becomes greater?

It is not possible to provide definite answers to any of these questions. By drawing from research, their experience, using empathy and listening well, practitioners must exercise good professional judgement as they work with each unique child in each unique context. It is also important for human services, health, criminal justice and other professionals to make decisions collaboratively. For example, in the case of Indigenous children and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, it is important to involve specialist cultural advisers in planning and decision making.

1.  Physical abuse

The WHO (2006, p. 10) defines child physical abuse as:

The intentional use of physical force against a child that results in – or has a high likelihood of resulting in – harm for the child’s health, survival, development or dignity. This includes hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, strangling, scalding, burning, poisoning and suffocating. Much physical violence against children in the home is inflicted with the object of punishing.

In all Australian jurisdictions, civil child protection legislation exists to protect children and young people from physical abuse. As previously stated, this civil legislation does not focus on the innocence or guilt of the alleged perpetrator, instead it focuses on the safety – particularly the future safety – of the child.

Jurisdictional criminal laws in Australia deal with severe cases of child physical abuse (such as those resulting in permanent or fatal injury) as offences of violence. The specific wording of these laws varies across jurisdictions (ALRC, 2010).

There is controversy about whether offences against children such as child physical abuse should be contained in civil child protection or criminal legislation. For example, some submissions to the ALRC (2010) argued that child abuse offences should be located in the criminal law and that violence against a child should not be considered less serious than such acts against an adult. Alternatively, it was suggested that such offences should be located in civil child protection legislation, then decisions about whether to recommend criminal action could be managed by child welfare experts.

The Commission’s view was that the best way forward was through cooperative relationships between professionals (i.e. child protection workers, police, health professionals and other human services workers), who can make joint decisions about which legislation to use depending on factors such as the nature and severity of the child abuse offence (ALRC, 2010). On the basis of the submissions received, the Commission made no specific recommendation for change.

2.  Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is also sometimes called ‘emotional maltreatment’, ‘psychological maltreatment’ and ‘psychological abuse’.

Emotional abuse refers to a parent or caregiver’s inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts towards a child and/or a pattern of failure over time to provide a child with adequate non-physical nurturing and emotional availability. Such acts of commission or omission are likely to damage a child’s self-esteem or social competence (Bromfield, 2005; Garbarino, Guttman, & Seeley, 1986; WHO, 2006). According to a popular conception by Garbarino and colleagues (1986, p. 8), emotional abuse takes five main behavioural forms:

  • rejecting: the adult refuses to acknowledge the child’s worth and the legitimacy of the child’s needs
  • isolating: the adult cuts the child off from normal social experiences, prevents the child from forming friendships and makes the child believe that he or she is alone in the world
  • terrorising: the adult verbally assaults the child, creates a climate of fear, bullies and frightens the child, and makes the child believe that the world is capricious and hostile
  • ignoring: the adult deprives the child of essential stimulation and responsiveness, stifling emotional growth and intellectual development
  • corrupting: the adult ‘mis-socialises’ the child, stimulates the child to engage in destructive antisocial behaviour, reinforces that deviance, and makes the child unfit for normal social experience.

In all Australian jurisdictions, emotional abuse is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). These civil child protection laws enable child protection practitioners to intervene in cases of emotional abuse and make an application to the children’s court for a child’s protection. However, the difficulties in doing this are well documented (Broadley, 2014; Goddard, 1996; Sheehan, 2006).

In most jurisdictions child protection practitioners are required to provide the children’s court with evidence of a link between the actions of a parent and the outcomes for a child (Bromfield & Higgins, 2004). In cases of emotional abuse it can be ‘difficult, even impossible, to prove a direct link between the abuse and/or neglectful parental behaviours and the poor child outcomes’ (Broadley, 2014, p. 272).

Given these challenges, it is particularly important for child protection and child welfare professionals to work collaboratively to support families to build protective factors and protect children from emotional abuse.

3.  Neglect

According to WHO (2006, p. 10):

Neglect includes both isolated incidents, as well as a pattern of failure over time on the part of a parent or other family member to provide for the development and wellbeing of the child – where the parent is in a position to do so – in one or more of the following areas:

  • health 
  • education 
  • emotional development 
  • nutrition 
  • shelter and safe living conditions.

In all Australian jurisdictions, neglect is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). These cases can be difficult for child protection practitioners to take before the child protection court, particularly if the concerning parental behaviours are low impact and high frequency (as opposed to high impact and low frequency). The difficulty may be in proving a link between the parental behaviours and/or omissions and the child outcomes.

Courts may also be reluctant to determine a child needs protection when the parents are poor or when for some other reason they struggle to provide for their child’s basic needs. In these situations, there is a responsibility on the state to provide support and assistance to the parents; and the parents have a responsibility to engage with and utilise these supports (CFCA, 2016). NSW child protection legislation explicitly states that the children’s court ‘cannot conclude that the basic needs of a child or young person are likely not to be met only because of a parent’s or primary care-giver’s disability or poverty’ (CFCA, 2016).

In many Australian jurisdictions it is a criminal offence for those with parental responsibility to fail to provide a child with basic needs such as accommodation, food, education and health care. Across the jurisdictions, these laws are all drafted differently. For example, in the Northern Territory the offence relates to a child under two years. In NSW and Queensland, the offence relates to a child under seven years (ALRC, 2010).

For a more detailed overview of the issues surrounding child neglect, see the CFCA paper Understanding Child Neglect.

4.  Sexual abuse

The WHO (2006, p. 10) defines child sexual abuse as:

The involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Children can be sexually abused by both adults and other children who are – by virtue of their age or stage of development – in a position of responsibility, trust or power over the victim.

In all Australian jurisdictions, sexual abuse is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). Commonly the child will not have a parent who has or who is likely to protect them.

Various jurisdictions have civil child protection legislation that provides for specific types of sexual abuse. For example, in the Northern Territory it is ‘involving the child as a participant or spectator … (in) an act of a sexual nature’ (CFCA, 2016); and in New South Wales where a child under the age of 14 has exhibited sexually abusive behaviours and requires intervention and treatment (CFCA, 2016).

There is a diversity of perpetrator characteristics, relationships and contexts within which child sexual abuse occurs (Quadara, Nagy, Higgins, & Siegel, 2015). In this resource sheet these different types of child sexual abuse are presented as:

  • adult abusers with no familial relationship to the child
  • adult abusers who are family members of the child
  • adult abusers who are in a position of power or authority over the child
  • sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people
  • sibling sexual abuse
  • online child sexual abuse
  • commercial child sexual exploitation.

Australian jurisdictional criminal laws are referred to in each of these types.

Adult abusers with no familial relationship to the child

Extra-familial child sexual abuse is sexual abuse that is perpetrated by acquaintances of the child victim or the child victim’s family (Quadara et al., 2015).

Criminal laws across Australia consider sexual abuse to be sexual activity between any adult and a child under the age of consent. The age of consent is 16 years in most Australian jurisdictions (see CFCA resource sheet Age of Consent Laws for a more detailed discussion). Therefore, in Australia, consensual sexual activity between a 20 year old and a 15 year old is a crime, while in most jurisdictions2 the same activity between a 20 year old and a 17 year old is not a crime.

Under civil child protection legislation, a child or young person is in need of protection from an extra-familial abuser if the parents or carers are unwilling or unable (or are likely to be unwilling or unable) to protect the child or young person from the sexual abuse.

Adult abusers who are family members of the child

Intra-familial child sexual abuse is considered to be the most prevalent type of child sexual abuse (Quadara et al., 2015). Perpetrators within this context include fathers, mothers, step-fathers, step-mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. (The following sections ‘Sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people’ and ‘Sibling sexual abuse’ can involve intra-familial child sexual abuse.)

In most Australian jurisdictions, sexual activity in the context of biological, step-family and adoptive relationships are covered by incest provisions (ALRC, 2010). In some jurisdictions, the incest offence applies regardless of age. In other jurisdictions, general child sexual abuse offences are applicable to children and the incest offence relates to situations where the victim is over the age of 16 years (ALRC, 2010).

Under child protection legislation, a child or young person needs protection from an intra-familial abuser if there is no parent or carer who is (or who is likely to be) willing and able to protect the child or young person from the sexual abuse.

Adult abusers who are in a position of power or authority over the child

Child sexual abuse occurs when there is any sexual behaviour between a child and an adult in a position of power or authority over them (e.g. a teacher).

Under child protection legislation a child or young person needs protection if the parents or carers are not able, or are unlikely to be willing, to protect the child or young person from the sexual abuse.

The general age of consent laws are inapplicable in these cases due to the strong imbalance of power that exists between children and young people and authority figures, as well as the breach of personal and public trust that occurs when professional boundaries are violated. For example, in NSW there is a provision for the criminal offence of ‘sexual intercourse with a child between 16 and 18 under special care’ (e.g. when the adult is a teacher, health professional or religious leader) (ALRC, 2010; Australian Legal Information Institute, 2018).

Sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people

The terminology used to describe child sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people is changeable (El-Murr, 2017). It is important not to demonise the children and young people engaging in the abusive behaviour by calling them perpetrators or sex offenders (El-Murr, 2017; Fernandez, 2016). These children and young people are still developing and growing. Labelling them may shame them and may deter them and their families from engaging with treatment and support (Fernandez, 2016).

However, it is important not to deny or minimise the harm that these children and young people cause to their victims and to themselves (El-Murr, 2017; Fernandez, 2016). El-Murr (2017) uses the term ‘problem sexual behaviours’ to describe ‘sexual behaviours that lie outside the range of age-appropriate behaviours and are demonstrated by children below the age of criminal responsibility’, and ‘sexually abusive behaviours’ as ‘behaviours displayed by those 10 up to 18 years and which have legal consequences’ but acknowledges that these terms also have their risks (see CFCA paper Problem Sexual Behaviours and Sexually Abusive Behaviours in Australian Children and Young People for a more detailed discussion).

Research suggests that this type of sexual abuse is common, and that children and young people are most likely to experience sexual harm from other children and young people (El-Murr, 2017). Such abuse often involves an older child or young person coercing or forcing a child who is younger, smaller or where there are marked developmental differences (e.g. if the victim child has a disability) into sexual activity (El-Murr, 2017). Even when there is no information to suggest coercion, manipulation or force, this does not mean an absence of manipulation or pressure. If a child’s sexual activity is out of the ordinary for his or her age, then regardless of whether or not there is an apparent power imbalance, professional help should be sought.

Some Australian jurisdictions have child protection legislation (e.g. New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria) that allows for a diversionary pathway in place of a criminal justice response (El-Murr, 2017).  In most other jurisdictions these offences are dealt with by the criminal division of the children’s court (El-Murr, 2017).

In some jurisdictions young people who have been found guilty of a child sexual abuse offence may be included on the sex offender register (Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC), 2014).

Sibling sexual abuse

Research suggests that sibling sexual abuse occurs at similar or higher rates to other types of intra-familial sexual abuse (Quadara et al., 2015; Stathopoulos, 2012). This type of sexual abuse is when there is sexual activity between a child or young person and a sibling that is non-consensual or coercive, or where there is an inequality of power or development between them.

As stated above, there is civil child protection legislation in some Australian jurisdictions to enable therapeutic treatment for these children and young people in place of a criminal justice response. In other jurisdictions the question of whether there will be criminal justice intervention will depend on the age of the children and the nature of the offence (El-Murr, 2017).

Although consensual and (apparently) non-coercive sexual behaviour between similarly aged siblings may not be considered child sexual abuse, it is considered problematic and harmful, and professional intervention should be sought.

Online child sexual abuse

Online child sexual abuse can cause additional harm to children and young people beyond the abusive experience itself (Quayle, 2013). Due to digital technology, offenders are able to take photos and videos of children and young people being sexually abused with little cost or effort, and often in the privacy of their own homes (Broughton, 2009). They are then able to communicate with other offenders via the internet and distribute their material online. These photos and videos are a permanent product of the abuse. They may resurface at any time and this leaves victims with a lifelong fear of exposure, exacerbating the damage (Broughton, 2009; Quayle, 2013). Offenders often use these images to manipulate victims into silence by threatening exposure should the child or young person ever talk about the abuse (Broughton, 2009).

Online child sexual abuse may also involve sexting (sending messages with sexual photos or videos via a mobile phone or posting online) (Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017). A decision about whether or not sexting constitutes child sexual abuse will depend on the particulars of the situation, including the ages of the children and young people involved. Sexting laws differ across Australian jurisdictions. For example, in Victoria it is a criminal offence for someone over the age of 18 years to send an image of someone who is under the age of 18 years posing in an indecent sexual manner to a third party, even if the child or young person has given consent (Victoria Legal Aid, 2014). (See CFCA resource sheet Images of Children and Young People Online for further details).

Civil child protection legislation provides protection for children and young people who are or who are likely to be victims of online child sexual abuse. This may, for example, involve statutory child protection authorities intervening to protect a child whose parent has accessed child exploitation material on the internet.

Online child sexual abuse and child exploitation material offences over the internet are international crimes constituting a global problem (Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017). Online child sexual offences are dealt with in Commonwealth and jurisdictional criminal legislation. These laws cover access, possession, distribution and the making of material. Although there are definitional differences across jurisdictions, all Australian jurisdictions agree that such activities and materials must be criminalised (Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017).

Commercial child sexual exploitation

Commercial child sexual exploitation includes:

  • the production and distribution of child exploitation material
  • exploiting children for prostitution (sometimes called child prostitution), which may involve promising money, food, clothing, accommodation or drugs to a child, or more often to a third person, in exchange for sexually abusing the child
  • the abduction and trafficking of children for sexual abuse purposes, which can occur within or across countries
  • sexual exploitation of children in the context of tourism (sometimes called child sex tourism)3 where individuals (generally Western men) travel from higher to lower income countries for the purpose of sexually exploiting children (Cameron et al., 2015; Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg, 2016; Johnson, 2014).

In Australia, the individual states and territories have their own unique sets of laws that criminalise all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Although there are differences in how it is defined across jurisdictions, there is an overall commitment to working with other governments (domestic and international) to prevent commercial child sexual exploitation, to prosecute perpetrators and to protect victims (Cameron et al., 2015). For example, in Australia the sexual exploitation of children in the context of tourism offences have been in place since 1994. In 2010 the laws were reformed to broaden the scope of criminalised activities and increase penalties. The Australian Federal Police are active in their efforts to protect children in foreign countries and to prosecute child sex offenders in the context of tourism. There have been a number of successful prosecutions of Australians involved in these crimes (Johnson, 2014).

5.  Exposure to family violence

Children and young people are often a hidden population within the family violence literature and discourse. Richards (2011, p. 1) refers to them as ‘silent, forgotten, unintended, invisible and/or secondary victims’. Forcing a child or young person to live in an environment where a primary caregiver experiences sustained violence is in and of itself emotional and psychological abuse (Goddard & Bedi, 2010). Children and young people who are forced to live with violence are at increased risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse (Dwyer & Miller, 2014; Goddard & Bedi, 2010; Mitchell, 2011). These children and young people tend to experience significant disruptions in their psychosocial wellbeing, often exhibiting a similar pattern of symptoms to other abused or neglected children (Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, & Kenny, 2003; Mitchell, 2011).

Family violence commonly occurs with inter-related problems such as drug and alcohol misuse and mental illness. These inter-related problems exacerbate and increase the risks to children in these families (Bromfield, Lamont, Parker, & Horsfall, 2010; Mitchell, 2011).

In all Australian jurisdictions, exposure to family violence is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). It is normally dealt with under the category of emotional and psychological abuse. However, in some jurisdictions (e.g. NSW and Tasmania) there is specific mention of family violence as grounds for protection (CFCA, 2016).

Additional forms of child abuse and neglect

As well as the five main subtypes of child abuse and neglect, researchers have identified other types, including:

  • fetal abuse (e.g. unborn babies who are harmed or placed at risk of harm as a result of maternal drug or alcohol use)
  • exposure to community violence
  • institutional abuse (i.e. abuse that occurs in institutions such as foster homes, group homes, and religious and sporting groups)
  • state-sanctioned abuse (e.g. female genital mutilation in parts of Africa, the Stolen Generations in Australia) (Corby, 2006; Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2007).

The relationships between the different subtypes of child abuse and neglect

Although it is useful to distinguish between the different subtypes of child abuse and neglect in order to understand and identify them more thoroughly, it can also be slightly misleading. It is misleading if it creates the impression that there are always strong lines of demarcation between the different abuse subtypes, or that abuse subtypes usually occur in isolation. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest many children who are abused or neglected are subjected to multiple forms of abuse and neglect (Price-Robertson, Rush, Wall, & Higgins, 2013). White, Hindley, & Jones (2015), for example, found that neglect (as opposed to other abuse types) is a particularly strong predictor of all other abuse types. Goddard and Bedi (2010, p. 7) found there were ‘high rates of overlap’ between intimate partner violence and child physical and sexual abuse. Vachon, Krueger, Rogosch, & Cicchetti (2015, p. 1140) found that child sexual abuse is ‘almost always accompanied’ by other types of child abuse and neglect.

Conclusion

Answering the question ‘what is child abuse and neglect?’ is not always a straightforward task. Cultural differences, questions about thresholds (at what point is the child experiencing significant harm?), determining ‘good enough’ parenting, and predicting likelihood of harm all give reason for pause and reflection. In order to make appropriate determinations about whether a child is or is not being abused it is important that professionals in all parts of the service system know the relevant laws and research findings, that they value and practice interdisciplinary work, and that their assessments and decisions are informed by the voices and experiences of children, young people and families.

For further reading see the CFCA publications:

References

  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2018). Child Protection Australia 2016–2017 (Vol. Cat. no. CWS. 63). Canberra: AIHW.
  • Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). (2010). Family violence: A national legal response. Canberra: ALRC.
  • Australian Legal Information Institute. (2018). Crimes Act 1900 – Sect 73, Sexual intercourse with a child between 16 and 18 under special care. Sydney: University of Technology Sydney and University of New South Wales. Retrieved from www5.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ca190082/s73.html
  • Broadley, K. (2014). Equipping child protection practitioners to intervene to protect children from cumulative harm: Legislation and policy in Victoria, Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues49(3), 265–284.
  • Bromfield, L., & Higgins, D. (2004). The limitations of using statutory child protection data for research into child maltreatment. Australian Social Work, 57(1), 19–30.
  • Bromfield, L. M. (2005). Chronic child maltreatment in an Australian statutory child protection sample (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Deakin University, Geelong.
  • Bromfield, L., Lamont, A., Parker, R., & Horsfall, B. (2010). Issues for the safety and wellbeing of children in families with multiple and complex problems. Family Matters, 88, 76.
  • Broughton, D. D., (2009). Child exploitation in the 21st century. Paediatrics and Child Health, 19, S197–S201.
  • Cameron, G., Sayer, E. M., Thomson, L., Wilson, S., Jones, D. N., & Florek, A. (2015). Child Sexual Exploitation: A study of international comparisons. Virtual Staff College [Online]. Retrieved fromthestaffcollege.uk/wp-content/uploads/CSE_exec_sum_final_publish_1.0.pdf
  • Child Family Community Australia (CFCA). (2016). Australian legal definitions: When is a child in need of protection? (CFCA Resource Sheet). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Corby, B. (2006). Child Abuse: Towards a knowledge base (3rd Ed). Berkshire, England: Open University Press.
  • Dwyer, J., & Miller, R. (2014). Working with families where an adult is violent. Melbourne: Department of Human Services.
  • El-Murr, A. (2017). Problem sexual behaviours and sexually abusive behaviours in Australian children and young people (CFCA Paper No. 46). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/problem-sexual-behaviours-and-sexually-abusive-behaviours-australian-children
  • Fernandez, C. (2016). Sibling Sexual Abuse Series: Part 1. Australian Childhood Foundation Prosody Blog. Retrieved from http://www.childhoodtrauma.org.au/2016/may/sibling-sexual-abuse-1
  • Garbarino, J., Guttman, E., & Seeley, J. W. (1986). The psychologically battered child: Strategies for identification, assessment, and intervention. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.
  • Goddard, C. (1996). Child abuse and child protection: A guide for health, education and welfare workers. South Melbourne: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Goddard, C., & Bedi, G. (2010). Intimate partner violence and child abuse: A child centred perspective. Child Abuse Review, 19, 5–20.
  • Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg. (2016). Terminology guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Bangkok, Thailand: ECPAT International
  • Johnson, A. K. (2014). Protecting children’s rights in Asian tourism. The International Journal of Children’s Rights22(3), 581–617.
  • Kitzmann, K. M., Gaylord, N. K., Holt, A. R., & Kenny, E. D. (2003). Child witnesses to domestic violence: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology71(2), 339–352.
  • Mathews, B., & Bross, D. C. (2014). Using law to identify and manage child maltreatment. In J. Korbin, & R. Krugman (Eds.). Handbook of child maltreatment (pp. 477–502). Dordrecht, NL: Springer.
  • Miller-Perrin. C. L., & Perrin, R. D., (2007) Child maltreatment: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Mitchell, L. (2011). Domestic violence in Australia: An overview of the issues (Parliamentary Library, Information Analysis Advice). Canberra: Parliament of Australia.
  • Platt, D., & Turney, D. (2014). Making threshold decisions in child protection: A conceptual analysis. British Journal of Social Work, 44(6), 1472–1490.
  • Plum, H. J. (2014). Legal responses to child maltreatment. Child Abuse and Neglect Worldwide1, 181–204.
  • Price-Robertson, R., Rush, P., Wall, L., & Higgins, D. (2013). Rarely an isolated incident: Acknowledging the interrelatedness of child maltreatment, victimisation and trauma (CFCA Paper No. 15). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/rarely-isolated-incident-acknowledging-interrelatedness-child-maltrea
  • Quadara, A., Nagy, V., Higgins, D., & Siegel, N. (2015). Conceptualising the prevention of child sexual abuse: Final report (Research Report No. 33). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from aifs.gov.au/publications/conceptualising-prevention-child-sexual-abuse
  • Quayle, E. (2013). Child pornography. In Y. Jewkes, & M. Yar (Eds.), Handbook of Internet Crime (pp. 343–368). New York: Routledge.
  • Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council. (2017). Classification of child exploitation material for sentencing purposes: Final report. Brisbane: Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council. Retrieved from http://www.sentencingcouncil.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/531503/cem-final-report-july-2017.pdf
  • Richards, K. (2011). Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice419.
  • Sheehan, R. (2006). Emotional harm and neglect: The legal response. Child abuse review15(1), 38–54.
  • Stathopoulos, M. (2012). Sibling sexual abuse (ACSSA Research Summary). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Tomison, A. M., & Tucci, J. (1997). Emotional abuse: The hidden form of maltreatment (National Child Protection Clearing House). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Turney, D., Platt, D., Selwyn, J., & Farmer, E. (2012). Improving child and family assessments turning research into practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • United Nations. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Geneva: United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b38f0.html  
  • Vachon, D. D., Krueger, R. F., Rogosch, F. A., & Cicchetti, D. (2015). Assessment of the harmful psychiatric and behavioral effects of different forms of child maltreatment. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(11), 1135–1142.
  • Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC). (2014). Sex Offenders Registration Final Report. Melbourne: VLRC. Retrieved from http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/SOR_Final%20Report_Full%20text.pdf
  • Victoria Legal Aid. (2014). Sexting and child pornography. Melbourne: Victoria Legal Aid. Retrieved from http://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/find-legal-answers/sex-and-law/sexting-and-child-pornography
  • White. O. G., Hindley, N., & Jones, D. P. H. (2015). Risk factors for child maltreatment recurrence: an updated systematic review. Medicine, Science and the Law, 55(4), 259–277.
  • World Health Organization. (2006). Preventing child maltreatment: A guide to taking action and generating evidence. Geneva: WHO. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/violence/child_maltreatment/en/

1 In Australia children and young people are those under the age of 18 (AIHW, 2018). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also defines a child as any human under the age of 18 years (United Nations, 1989).

2 In Queensland, consensual anal sex is considered to be an offence when the activity involves any person under the age of 18 years.

3 The use of terms such as child prostitution and child sex tourism imply that the child has given informed consent to the sexual abuse. The terms used in this resource sheet have been chosen because they better reflect the fact that the child is a victim of abuse and exploitation (Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg, 2016).


Authors and Acknowledgements

This paper was updated by Karen Broadley, Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. 

Previous editions have been compiled by Kathryn Goldsworthy, Rhys Price-Robertson, Leah Bromfield and Nick Richardson.

The feature image is by Aurimas, CC BY-ND 2.0.


Publication details

CFCA Resource Sheet
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2018. 
Last updated September 2018

Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/what-child-abuse-and-neglect

Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse (9)

Prevention 

The ideal response to child sexual abuse would be primary prevention strategies aimed at eliminating, or at least reducing, the sexual abuse of children (Tomison, 1995). This review has, however, focused on issues related to the deleterious outcomes linked to child sexual abuse rather than on the characteristics of abusers and the contexts in which abuse is more likely to occur, which are relevant to primary prevention. From the information presented here, the implications are for secondary and tertiary preventive strategies aimed at ameliorating the damage inflicted by abuse, and reducing the subsequent reverberations of that damage. 

Child sexual abuse may be a necessary, but rarely (if ever) a sufficient, cause of adult problems. Child sexual abuse acts in concert with other developmental experiences to leave the growing child with areas of vulnerability. This is a dynamic process at every level, and one in which there are few irremediable absolutes. Abuse is not destiny. It is damaging, and that damage, if not always reparable, is open to amelioration and limitation.

Those who have been abused who subsequently have positive school experiences where they feel themselves to have succeeded academically, socially or at sport, have significantly lower rates of adult difficulties (Romans et al. 1995). Those whose relationship with their parents subsequent to abuse was positive and supportive fared better, and a good relationship with the father appeared to have a strong protective influence regarding subsequent psychopathology (Romans et al. 1995). Even aspects of the parental figures’ relationship to each other seem to have an influence. Expressions of physical affection between parents was associated with better outcomes, and marked domestic disharmony, particularly if associated with violence, added to the damage (Romans et al. 1995; Spaccarelli and Kim 1995). Finally, those who can establish stable and satisfactory intimate relationships as adults have significantly better outcomes. 

There is no reason why a well-organised and funded school system should not provide all children with a positive experience academically, socially or in sport. There is no need to identify and target abuse victims, but simply to make every effort to ensure adolescents have the opportunity to share in the enhanced social opportunities, the increased mastery, and the pleasure of achievement that school should provide at some level to all. 

The encouragement of sport may seem trivial, but it has a protective influence on psychiatric disorders in all adolescents, not just those with histories of child abuse (Romans et al. 1996; Thorlindsson et al. 1990; Simonsick 1991). Similarly in adult life, success in tertiary education and in the workforce is associated with reduced vulnerability to psychiatric problems for the abused and the non-abused alike, but particularly for the abused (Romans et al. 1996).

The secondary preventive strategies of relevance in reducing the impact of child sexual abuse are equally relevant to reducing a wide range of adolescent and adult problems unrelated to abuse. These include improved parental relationships, reduced domestic violence and disharmony, improved school opportunities, work opportunities, better social networks, and better intimate relationships as adults. The list is so familiar as to be platitudinous, but is nonetheless of central importance. 

The model advanced in this paper is of child sexual abuse contributing to developmental disruptions that lay the basis for interpersonal and social problems in adult life. These, in turn, increase the risks of adult psychiatric problems and disorders. If this is correct, then focusing on improving the social and interpersonal difficulties of those with histories of child sexual abuse may be the most effective manner of reducing subsequent psychiatric disorder. 

This argues for tertiary prevention strategies aimed at improving self-esteem, encouraging more effective action in work and recreational pursuits, attempting to overcome sexual difficulties, and working specifically on improving the victim’s social networks and capacities to trust in, and accept, intimacy. This does not imply that established affective disorders or eating disorders should not be treated in their own right, but suggests that focusing on current vulnerabilities and deficits may be more productive than extended archeologies of past abuse in the search of an elusive retrospective mastery. 

Conclusion 

The hypothesis advanced in this paper is that, in most cases, the fundamental damage inflicted by child sexual abuse is to the child’s developing capacities for trust, intimacy, agency and sexuality, and that many of the mental health problems of adult life associated with histories of child sexual abuse are second-order effects. This hypothesis runs counter to the post-traumatic stress disorder model, and suggests different therapeutic strategies and strategies of secondary prevention. 

In practice, both models may be of value. The post-traumatic stress disorder like mechanisms may predominate in the short term, and in those who have been exposed to the grossest form of child sexual abuse. The developmental and social model may carry the weight of causality in the far commoner, but less utterly overwhelming, forms of child sexual abuse. 

References (see Library)

Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse 
by Paul E. Mullen and Jillian Fleming

wwww.aaets.org/article176.htm

GLOBAL Articles …

After reading through the recent WP Articles of Supply and Demand – What about the Truth?, Abuse – Turning a Blind Eye no MoreOfficial: Priest accused of going AWOL & How to Let Go of the Need to Control Others it is noted that the patterns of Child Sexual Abuse is by no means cases of ‘isolated incidents’, ‘sole Predators’ or ‘one-off errors’. In what some have long suspected as an endemic problem, this will also require a common solution. Beyond the Religious basis of Catholicism (where many of these ordeals were hidden; 7% of all Catholic priests in Australia; age at the time of the abuse was 11.5 for boys and 10.5 for girls) , a multi-facetted approach will be needed. Australia’s 5 yr Royal Commission 2013-2017 uncovered many of these ingrained occasions, yet so much more is needed for effective change. It is known that many families of CSA Victims continue to follow their Church beliefs, ahead of acknowledging the wrongful impacts on their targeted child.
Perhaps the ingrained element of Control over our vulnerable stems from Caesar’s control over Rome, Anakin’s/Darth Vader’s control over Resistance (Star Wars), or simply the control dynamics found in many a child’s playground. The 4th Article gives us an outlook of personal stresses with micromanaging our children & spouse. Control of ourselves is a major stage in Dr Perry’s Article, involving personal strengthening stages. There may always be others trying to control us, yet through effective parenting-family-networks light will always be possible.

Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse (8)

Alcohol abuse

Research into the relationship between child sexual abuse and alcohol abuse began with reports that clients with substance abuse problems reported high levels of exposure to child sexual abuse. A review of 12 studies conducted prior to 1995 indicated that the rates of child sexual abuse among those in treatment for alcohol abuse varied from as high as 84 per cent to as low as 20 per cent (Fleming et al. in press (b)).

Other evidence suggesting a relationship between child sexual abuse and alcohol abuse came from studies of women with histories of child sexual abuse who were attending treatment for mental health problems. These studies generally found higher rates of alcohol abuse in women with a history of child sexual abuse (Pribor and Dinwiddie 1992; Swett and Halpert 1994).

Recent research into the relationship between child sexual abuse and alcohol abuse has been methodologically more sophisticated than in the past, and has used community samples with larger sample sizes, random samples and more adequate definitions for both alcohol abuse and child sexual abuse (Peters 1988; Bushnell et al. 1992; Fergusson et al. 1996). However, conflicting results on the possible linkage between child sexual abuse and alcohol abuse have been reported. This has given rise to doubt about the strength of an association, the extent to which this relationship reflects a causal connection, and how any connection is mediated and influenced by other aspects of background and development.

The link between child sexual abuse and alcohol abuse may not be a simple causal chain. Fleming et al. (in press, (b)) in a case-control study examining the relationship between a reported history of child sexual abuse and the development of alcohol abuse in a sample of 710 Australian women, proposed that a history of child sexual abuse was not, by itself, sufficient to cause alcohol dependency in women. The relationship between child sexual abuse and alcohol abuse more likely reflects a complex interplay between child sexual abuse and a range of other factors in a woman’s life. Their results showed that in combination with the perception of a mother who was uncaring and overly controlling, being sexually abused did increase the risk of alcohol abuse in women. These results also suggest evidence for protective effects such that the perception of having a kind, caring and loving mother may help overcome some of the potentially adverse effects of child sexual abuse on subsequent vulnerability to alcohol abuse.

The proposition that the long-term effects of child sexual abuse may be modified by an individual’s experience subsequent to the abuse has also been suggested. Romans et al. (1995 and 1997) demonstrated that long-term problems following child sexual abuse were significantly lower in those who had supportive and confiding relationships with their mothers. In addition, in adults with a history of child sexual abuse, a three-way interaction was found between child sexual abuse, having an alcoholic partner, and having high expectancies of alcohol as a sexual disinhibitor.

The research on child sexual abuse and alcohol abuse illustrates the complexity of the interactions between abuse and the emergence of adult problems. As a minimum, there are interactions between the severity of the abuse, the family relationships prior and subsequent to the abuse, the adult victims’ preconceptions about alcohol reducing sexual anxieties and, finally, the drinking habits of their eventual partner. Even this list fails to convey the complexity of the dynamic interactions between development, abuse and family and social experiences. This is not complexity for the sake of complexity. Understanding the impact of child sexual abuse in a developmental and interactive perspective is central to effective therapy for adults and child victims, and for secondary prevention strategies.

Unravelling the associations between abuse and long-term problems

There is a wide range of potential adverse adult outcomes associated with child sexual abuse. However, there is no unique pattern to these long-term effects and no discernible specific post-abuse syndrome. This suggests that child sexual abuse is best viewed as a risk factor for a wide range of subsequent problems.

In studies on the long-term impact of child sexual abuse that employ adult subjects, it is all too easy to forget the abuse occurred in childhood, and to resort to applying inappropriately adult-centred conceptualisations. In deriving models of the link between child sexual abuse and adult difficulties, the heavy reliance on the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder may be an example of such an error.

The sexual abuse of children occurs during a period in life where complex and, hopefully, ordered changes are occurring in the child’s physical, psychological and social being. The state of flux leaves the child vulnerable to sustaining damage that will retard, pervert or prevent the normal developmental processes. The impact of abuse is likely to be modified by the developmental stage at which it occurs. It will also vary according to how resilient the child is in terms of their psychological and social development up to that point. A child who has already had to cope with, for example, a problematic family background or prior emotional abuse, will be more vulnerable to the additional blow of child sexual abuse. A child from a more secure and privileged background may well be equally distressed at the time by the abuse, but is likely to sustain less long-term developmental damage.

These suppositions are born out by studies that have demonstrated powerful interactions between the child’s prior exposure to potentially damaging situations, and the degree of adult disturbance apparently associated with a history of child sexual abuse (Mullen et al. 1993 and 1994; Fergusson et al. 1996 and 1997).

The long-term effects of child sexual abuse will also be modified by the individual’s experience subsequent to the abuse. Romans et al. (1995 and 1997) demonstrated that long-term problems following child sexual abuse were significantly lower in those who had supportive and confiding relationships with their mothers and in those who, as adolescents, experienced some success at school or with peers. The nature of this success (academic, social or sporting), is probably less important than the accompanying strengthening of self-esteem and enhancement of opportunities for effective social interactions with peers.

The relationship between the potential damage inflicted on elements in the child’s development and subsequent mitigating factors is, of necessity, complex. For example, the observation that those victims of child sexual abuse who manage to establish and maintain stable marital relationships are protected against some of the potentially adverse outcomes of child sexual abuse (Cole et al. 1992) may reflect, in part, the mitigating and healing influence of effective intimacy. However, equally, the association may be a product of the ability of those, who have for other reasons avoided the worst effects of child sexual abuse, to enter and sustain intimate relationships.

Peters (1988) suggested that child sexual abuse interacts with family background to produce disruption of the child’s developing self-esteem and sense of mastery of the world (agency). It is these deficits, in turn, that increase the likelihood of psychological problems in later life. This model of developmental deficits leading to social and personal vulnerabilities in adult life, which in their turn create an increased risk of mental health problems, can usefully be expanded.

Those with histories of child sexual abuse, particularly of the more physically intrusive types, have an increased risk of social, interpersonal and sexual problems in adult life. This association may play a role in mediating at least some of the far better known associations between child sexual abuse and mental health problems.

Greater vulnerability to depression is found in women who lack an intimate and confiding relationship (Henderson and Brown 1988; Harris 1988; Romans et al. 1992). Depression is also associated with lowered self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness about one’s ability to influence one’s life (Browne et al. 1986, Ingram et al. 1986). Thus the social, interpersonal and sexual problems associated with a history of child sexual abuse may themselves provide fertile ground for the development of mental health problems, particularly in the area of depressive disorders.

A plausible hypothesis can be advanced that the developmental disruption engendered by child sexual abuse in the victims’ sense of self-esteem, sense of agency, sense of the world as a safe enough environment, in their capacity for entering trusting intimate relationships and, finally, in their developing sexuality, leads in adult life to an increased risk of low self-esteem, social and economic failure, social insecurity and isolation, difficulties with intimacy and sexual problems.

This constellation of difficulty is a pattern of disadvantage likely to leave the subject prone to depressive and anxiety disorders. The vulnerability may be expressed if, and when, the subject encounters psychosocial or physical stressors, particularly if those stressors target specific areas of developmental vulnerability. (See Figure 1)

Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse 
by Paul E. Mullen and Jillian Fleming
http://www.aifs.gov

Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse (7)

Relationships and intimacy

The sexual problems linked to child sexual abuse could be an entirely specific effect related to traumatic sexualisation, or could be contributed to by a wider constellation of disruption of interpersonal and intimate relatedness. Child sexual abuse involves a breach of trust or an exploitation of vulnerability, and frequently both. 

Sexually abused children not only face an assault on their developing sense of their sexual identity, but a blow to their construction of the world as a safe enough environment and their developing sense of others as trustworthy. In those abused by someone with whom they had a close relationship, the impact is likely to be all the more profound. A history of child sexual abuse is reported to be associated in adult life with insecure and disorganised attachments (Alexander 1993; Briere and Runtz 1988; Jehu 1989). Increased rates of relationship breakdown have also been reported in those exposed to child sexual abuse (Beitchman et al. 1991; Bagley and Ramsey 1986; Mullen et al. 1988). 

Mullen et al. (1994) found that their subjects reporting child sexual abuse were more likely to evince a general instability in their close relationships. Though those with histories of child sexual abuse were just as likely as controls to be currently in a close relationship, they were more likely in the past to have experienced divorce or separation. When asked about the level of satisfaction with their current relationship, those with abuse histories expressed significantly lower levels of satisfaction. The level of current satisfaction was lowest for intercourse victims. 

Relationship problems were also reflected in the evaluations of the quality of their communication with their partners. Less than half of the victims felt able to confide personal problems to their partner, and nearly a quarter reported no meaningful communication with their partners on a more intimate level, whereas only 6 per cent of controls took an equally negative view of their partners receptivity to their concerns. This perceived gap in communication at a deeper level rose to 36 per cent in those reporting child sexual abuse involving penetration. 

In this study, those reporting child sexual abuse were more likely to rate their partners as low on care and concern, and high on intrusive control. Interestingly, the deficiencies perceived in their partners as sources of emotional support by those with histories of child sexual abuse was not generalised to peer relationships where they were just as likely to report they had friends in whom to confide and with whom to share their troubles.

A community study of Australian women found similar results with a history of child sexual abuse adversely affecting the quality of women’s relationships in adult life, and increasing the likelihood of divorce and separation (Fleming, 1997, Fleming et al, in press). Women who reported a history of child sexual abuse were more likely to report their current partner to be uncaring and highly controlling, and to be dissatisfied with the relationship. Child sexual abuse appears to affect a woman’s ability to maintain intimate relationships by interfering with her capacity to develop her sexuality and trust in others. The results of this study also found that women with histories of child sexual abuse who found difficulty in forming satisfying intimate relationships did not, however, report an inability to form close friendships or to receive emotional support from friends. 

It is tempting to suggest that the experience of child sexual abuse at a vulnerable moment in the child’s development of trust in others predisposes to a specific deficit in forming and maintaining intimate relationships. The attribution of a lack of concern and a tendency to be intrusive and overcontrolling to their partners could be a product of these partners’ actual attitudes and behaviour, or could reflect primarily the expectations, interpretations and projections directed at the partner by these women with histories of child sexual abuse. Conversely, those who have been abused may be more prone to enter relationships with emotionally detached and domineering partners because their lowered self-esteem and reduced initiative limits their choices, or from some neurotic compulsion to repeat.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem encompasses the extent to which individuals feel comfortable with the sense they have of themselves (the self for self) and, to a lesser extent, their accomplishments, and how they believe they are viewed by others (the self for others). Robson (1988) wrote that self-esteem is ‘the sense of contentment and self acceptance that stems from a person’s appraisal of his (or her) own worth, significance, attractiveness, competence and ability to satisfy aspirations’. 

A number of studies have implicated child sexual abuse in lowering self esteem in adults (for review, see Beitchman et al. 1992), but the most sophisticated examination of the issue to date is that of Romans et al. (1996). This study showed a clear relationship between poor self-esteem in adulthood and a history of child sexual abuse in those who reported the more intrusive forms of abuse involving penetration. It was, however, those aspects of self-esteem involved with an increased expectation of unpleasant events (pessimism) and a sense of inability to influence external events (fatalism) that were affected, not those involved with a sense of being attractive, having determination, or being able to relate to others.

Long-term impact on mental health

There have been numerous studies examining the association between a history of child sexual abuse and mental health problems in adult life that have employed clinical samples, convenience samples (usually of students), and random community samples. There is now an established body of knowledge clearly linking a history of child sexual abuse with higher rates in adult life of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, substance abuse disorders, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders (Briere and Runtz 1988; Winfield et al. 1990; Bushnell et al. 1992; Mullen et al. 1993; Romans et al. 1995 and 1997; Fergusson et al. 1996; Silverman et al. 1996; Fleming et al. in press). A more controversial literature links multiple personality disorder with child sexual abuse (Bucky and Dallenberg 1992; Spanos 1996). 

Space does not allow a full review of the complex relationships between adult psychopathology and child sexual abuse but to illustrate the trajectory followed by such research in recent years, the literature relating a history of child sexual abuse to alcohol abuse in adult life will be briefly considered.

Familiar? Child sex abuse victim finally speaks out after decades of shame

Thinking back to the times Brett Sengstock was molested as a young boy makes him want to vomit.

Even seeing photos of Frank Houston causes him to breakdown.

After 30 years of silence and shame, Mr Sengstock has finally decided to come forward because he says he is tired of others speaking for him.

Breaking down in Sunday’s night’s 60 Minutes program sharing his horrific story, Mr Sengstock recounted the graphic details about what happened to him starting when he was seven years old.

The predator was Hillsong founder Brian Houston’s father, Frank Houston, a high-profile pastor who used his position of power to sexually abuse young boys.

Decisions around how the matter was handled were made by Brian while he was head of the Pentecostal movement, the Assemblies of God in Australia.

As a young boy, Mr Sengstock said he considered Frank Houston royalty. He was leader of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand and when he visited Mr Sengstock said it was like the Pope coming to town.

He would stay with the Sengstocks when he came to Australia.

“He would come into my room and lay on top off me,” Mr Sengstock said.

“I couldn’t speak. I could not speak. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t push back, I just went rigid and I couldn’t breathe, I was petrified.

“(He would say) ‘You’re my golden boy, and you’re special to me,’ and all these sort of things, which, as an adult now, I look back at, it makes me want to vomit.

“When you do that to a child you murder them, you take everything away from them, there’s nothing left.”

The abuse continued until Mr Sengstock was 12 but at 16 he finally decided to tell his mother what had happened. He was shattered by her response.

In a statement on its website, the Hillsong Church said Brian Houston “acknowledges the inexcusable crimes committed against” Mr Sengstock.

“It is misleading that the report failed to mention the many who knew about this issue before it came to (Brian Houston’s) attention,” the statement said.

“Pastor Brian was the one who actually took action when he learned of it as evidenced to by the transcripts of the royal commission readily accessible to the public.

“From the day Frank Houston was confronted by Pastor Brian, he never preached again.”

He became emotional when recounting the sexual abuse he received from Frank Houston. Picture: Channel 9

“She turned around and said to me that you don’t want to send people to hell, and stop sending them to the church,” he said.

When his mother finally revealed what happened 20 years later, without telling him, the matter was “quietly” dealt with.

Frank Houston confessed and paid Mr Sengstock $12,000 for his forgiveness.

The matter was never reported to the police, even when Brian Houston found out about his father’s actions in 1999.

Frank Houston died in 2004. Many didn’t know of his actions until Mr Sengstock spoke to the Royal Commission into child sex abuse in 2014.

Brian said he believed it should have been up to Mr Sengstock to report his father to the police when he first found out about his father’s paedophilia.

Frank’s son Brian spoke to the royal commission into child sex abuse. Picture: Channel 9

The church did strip Frank Houston of his credentials and he retired on a pension with no one the wiser.

It was not until a letter to church members in 2001 that they suspected something serious had taken place.

In the letter the church described his acts as a “serious moral failure”. They would later learn they were criminal acts.

In interviews during the commission, Brian said he “didn’t have any doubt that it was criminal conduct”.

“Rightly or wrongly, I genuinely believed that I would be pre-empting the victim if I were to just call the police at that point”.

After the Royal Commission Mr Sengstock sought compensation, but was not successful because he could not prove the Assemblies of God in Australia was responsible for Frank when the abuse happened.

REFERENCED: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/child-sex-abuse-victim-finally-speaks-out-after-decades-of-shame/news-story/ecaab6cdf6e38deeb3d4fe31025d14f7

Undeniable: The advocates and agitators who fought for justice

As the royal commission into child abuse prepares to report back to government this week, we highlight the courageous individuals who took on powerful institutions to help expose a national shame.

By Paul Kennedy

Updated 12 Dec 2017, 9:47pm

Chrissie Foster, a tireless advocate for survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church.

PHOTO: Chrissie Foster became a tireless advocate for survivors after her daughters were abused. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Chrissie Foster: A family’s fight

Suburban Melbourne parents Chrissie and Anthony Foster learned in the 1990s that two of their daughters, Emma and Katie, were raped by their local priest, Father Kevin O’Donnell.

Emma began harming herself after the trauma forced upon her. Teenage Katie got drunk to avoid her haunting memories and was hit by a car, leaving her permanently disabled.

So began Chrissie and Anthony’s harrowing, tireless fight for justice.

After the priest was sentenced to jail, the church — through its Melbourne Response scheme — offered Emma a $50,000 payment that would require her to sign away future legal rights. The Fosters thought this grossly unfair, sued the church and eventually settled for a sum many times larger than the initial offer.

In 2008, Emma died of an overdose.

The Fosters became public figures and challenged the church’s attitudes and legal strategies.

In 2010, Chrissie published her family story in a book, Hell on the Way to Heaven.

A year later, the Victorian Government launched a parliamentary inquiry into the way religious and other institutions handled cases of child sexual abuse. The Fosters gave damning evidence against the church hierarchy.

A national campaign then led the Gillard government to announce the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Foster story was at the forefront of the royal commission’s public hearing into the Melbourne Response. Chrissie gave evidence, supported by Anthony on the stand.

In 2017, Anthony died after collapsing in a car park. He was given a state funeral. Speakers included the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, and royal commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan.

Despite her grief, Chrissie is dedicated to continue fighting injustice so survivors and their families may receive proper compensation through redress and common law. She is also a devoted and passionate advocate for better child protection.

Denis Ryan: A country policeman ignored

It was 1956 and Denis Ryan was a young policeman on patrol in St Kilda. One night, he and his partner came across a drunken priest caught pants-down in a car with prostitutes.

The clergyman was taken into custody but was later released by another policeman.

Denis was told, “You don’t charge priests”. He also learned there were members of Victoria Police who actively protected the church from scandal.

Denis Ryan stares through his glasses, while sitting on a brown couch.

PHOTO: Denis Ryan’s career as a police officer was ruined by the so-called “Catholic Mafia” in Victoria Police. (ABC RN: Jeremy Story Carter)

Years later, Denis was transferred to the regional Victorian city of Mildura, where he came across the same priest he had arrested in St Kilda.

The priest was Monsignor John Day, a violent and sadistic man. A teacher and a nun told the policeman that Monsignor Day was committing crimes against children.

Denis investigated and compiled a list of victims; he sought to have the priest charged, but was prevented by senior police, including his immediate superior, Sergeant Jim Barritt — who was a close friend of Monsignor Day.

Denis wrote to the Bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, but received no help. Bishop Mulkearns told him that Sergeant Barritt had already cleared Monsignor Day of any allegations.

The church and police officials’ protection of Monsignor Day did two things: it was forced Denis out of the job he loved, and gave a green light to other paedophile priests in the vast Ballarat Diocese.

Denis, who still lives in Mildura, gave evidence to the royal commission and was supported by former Victoria Police chief commissioner Mick Miller.

The force officially apologised to him in 2016, but he has still not been properly compensated for his ruined career.

In his final speech last month before handing down recommendations, Justice McClellan explained how police in Victoria and NSW actively protected church officials, when their highest priority should have been protecting children.

Paul Tatchell: A boy who fought back

After Monsignor Day was allowed to go free, criminal clergy in the Ballarat Diocese became emboldened.

St Alipius Primary School was ruled by four paedophiles, all working there at the same time. They included the notorious Gerald Ridsdale, and a violent sex offender called Brother Ted Dowlan, who ran one of the boarding houses at St Patrick’s College. He later changed his name to Ted Bales.

Br Dowlan, whose bedroom was attached to the Year 7 students’ dormitory, beat and raped children at will.

Paul Tatchell, who was abused by Brother Ted Dowlan as a boy at school in Ballarat.

PHOTO: Paul Tatchell was expelled from school after reporting his abuse to his headmaster. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

One night, he raped a boy called Paul Tatchell, who fought back. After being attacked in Br Dowlan’s room, Paul began punching the clergyman.

Leaving the Brother crying on the floor, Paul ran from the room and tried to call his parents for help, but the school’s headmaster and other staff locked him in a closet until morning.

Paul was then expelled. The church leadership did not report Br Dowlan to police. He remained a free man until Paul and other victims came forward to make police statements in the early 1990s.

He watched from the back of a courtroom as the law finally punished his attacker.

Paul gave evidence at the royal commission. So did the school headmaster, Brother Paul Nangle, who claimed he never knew Br Dowlan was a sex offender.

But the evidence was overwhelming. Paul went into the army, and then into business. He now owns a newspaper, and was recently elected Mayor of Moorabool Shire, east of Ballarat, for the third time.

He does not consider himself a “victim” and says he does not suffer the same type of post-traumatic stress as other former boarders — perhaps because he punched back, and could not be controlled like others.

As part of his interview for the ABC documentary Undeniable, Paul went back to the room where he was raped for the first time.

He will never return to that building.

Joanne McCarthy: Uncovering devastating secrets

In 2006, Newcastle Herald reporter Joanne McCarthy received a phone call that set her on a path to becoming one of Australia’s finest investigative journalists.

The voice at the other end of the line asked her why a priest who had been convicted of child sexual assault was not being written about in the newspaper.

Joanne looked into it, and found the tip-off to be accurate, but on questioning church authorities, she immediately detected they were lying.

Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy

PHOTO: Joanne McCarthy won Australian journalism’s highest honour for her coverage. (ABC: Undeniable)

For children, the Newcastle-Maitland region had been a dangerous place for decades. The cover-up of crimes was effective and unrelenting.

But Joanne’s work began unravelling the truth. She would go on to write more than a thousand stories on clergy sex abuse and institutional cover-ups within both the Catholic and Anglican churches.

In 2012, John Pirona, a fireman and victim of clergy sex abuse, disappeared after leaving a note that read “too much pain”. Joanne and the Herald covered the story and later reported on John’s death by suicide.

On the night of John’s funeral, Joanne decided enough was enough and wrote an editorial calling for a royal commission.

Her work, along with that of courageous Lateline journalist Suzanne Smith, led to senior NSW detective Peter Fox deciding to speak out on the issue.

Soon after, then-prime minister Julia Gillard ordered the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In the final moments of her prime ministership, she wrote a letter of endorsement for Joanne’s work in changing Australia forever.

Joanne was awarded Australian journalism’s highest honour, the Gold Walkley.

The reporter who took that phone call 11 years ago is still investigating and writing. She believes there is much work to do in delivering justice to survivors and better protection to children in all states and territories.

Rob Walsh: ‘No more suicides’

The royal commission would not have been possible without the revelations in Ballarat.

In the years preceding the inquiry, Rob Walsh was one of the survivors who helped publicise the consequences of abuse, by working with police to expose a tragically nigh number of suicides in the city.

While dealing with his own acute trauma, he supported others — and still is.

Rob Walsh fought back against an abusive Catholic priest when he was a boy in Ballarat.

PHOTO: Rob Walsh says it’s a battle for many survivors to make it through each day. (ABC: Undeniable)

Rob says the Catholic Church and other institutions should pay struggling victims’ ongoing medical costs so they can survive beyond the royal commission.

He says cash payouts are not enough.

“I firmly believe that they should be given rights to disability pensions,” he says. “They would be far better off. People think these guys are after millions and millions of dollars. They’re not.”

Ballarat survivors have endured many days of stressful royal commission public hearings. Some even travelled to Rome for a special sitting.

Listening to stories of abuse and cover-up from dozens of witnesses, including the negligent Bishop Mulkearns and the jailed Ridsdale, caused more suffering through anxiety.

It’s been hard, if we’re talking about the burden. I think the burden is heavier now because we now know more about the abuse, and the cover-up,” Rob says.

According to Rob, the Catholic Church should be forced to help victims of sexually abusive clergy in practical ways.

Exposing a national shame

The key moments that led to one of Australia’s most shocking inquiries.

“I’d like to see this gold card introduced. I’d like to see these victims cared for. And I think they’ve earned the right to be cared for. They’ve earned the respect to be cared for.

“It is a daily battle — I’m not the only victim who would say that. The rent’s still got to be paid. We’ve all got those bills, the gas and electricity bills.”

Survivors’ lawyer Judy Courtin says the trauma is so difficult to deal with on its own, but “to have to deal with the day to day pressures of life makes it a hundred times worse”.

“It’s those day to day responsibilities of bills, health cover, and so on. Not waiting in queues or waiting for months to see a doctor,” she says.

Rob believes the church should use its resources — hospitals and property — to provide health care and accommodation for those in desperate need.

“I think it’d be the Australian thing to do. No more suicides.”

Ken Smith and Ann Barker: The political will

From different sides of politics, Victorian politicians Ken Smith and Ann Barker both sought justice for survivors.

Ken was a member of the Kennett government when he chaired a parliamentary committee that examined child sex offenders.

His work led him to the most forensic examination of clergy sex abuse within the Catholic Church ever carried out by Australian politicians.

Victorian MP Ken Smith stands in State Parliament.

PHOTO: Ken Smith says some colleagues criticised him for speaking out against the church. (ABC: Undeniable)

Harsh findings were made against the church hierarchy, and the evidence moved him so much he wrote in his report, “My life has been deeply marked by the experiences of the past 12 months”. 

The horror stories relayed by victims and investigators cry out for an emotional response to the problem.

Ken was shocked and dismayed when only a few of his committee’s 130 recommendations were acted upon.

He says some of his colleagues attacked him verbally for speaking ill of senior church official Monsignor Gerald Cudmore.

Action was not taken against the church. Instead, the Victorian government allowed the church hierarchy to establish its own scheme for paying out survivors.

Former premier Jeff Kennett denies the church influenced his decision, saying he thought it was the best thing to do at the time.

Subsequent governments have refused to override or intervene in the Melbourne Response, despite negative findings from several inquires.

Ken has carried the disappointment of that 1995 experience with him for his entire career.

Former Victorian MP Ann Barker with her husband Jim.

PHOTO: Ann Barker, pictured with her husband Jim, visited Ireland to see how it investigated widespread child abuse. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Labor member for Oakleigh Ann Barker was the first to call for a royal commission in 2012, after travelling to Ireland to learn about its state inquiries.

The Foster family’s story motivated her to see what could be done for victims.

She returned to Australia convinced the nation needed to wrest control of providing justice and child protection from the institutions responsible for the abuse.

Ann praised the work of Justice McClellan and the other commissioners for the way Australia’s inquiry was conducted.

Peter Fox: A policeman’s defining TV interview

An interview with NSW detective Peter Fox by journalist Tony Jones on the ABC’s Lateline program was both powerful and transformative.

In November 2012, Peter put his job on the line to publicly express concerns about child sex crimes and cover-ups within the Catholic Church.

Peter Fox, a former NSW policeman who worked to expose sexual abuse in the Newcastle area

PHOTO: Peter Fox sacrificed his career to help reveal the extent of the sexual abuse around Newcastle. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

He also made allegations against NSW Police.

A subsequent NSW Special Commission of Inquiry found senior church officials withheld evidence from police.

The inquiry did not find evidence of a conspiracy by police to stall investigations and said Peter had lost objectivity in investigating the church.

But Peter’s courageous appearance motivated the Australian public to start talking about the need for a royal commission, which prime minister Gillard soon ordered.

Peter had been investigating paedophile priests for many years.

He built strong relationships with victims and provided them great comfort.

After acting as whistleblower, his position in NSW Police was untenable; he sacrificed his beloved career to reveal critical details of abuse and institutional interference in the Newcastle-Maitland region.

Before and after the interview, Lateline played a leading role in forcing Australia’s largest national inquiry into child sexual abuse.

For many years, reporter Suzanne Smith led the Lateline investigations.

“We focused very much on the leadership of the church. By elevating their significance on Lateline, we gave the stories a national focus. It also led to many victims, in other states, coming forward,” Suzanne says.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. 10:3020:56VIDEO: Peter Fox speaks to Lateline about the cover up of sexual abuse(Lateline)

Former executive producer John Bruce says the interview with Peter was the tipping point.

“While there were subsequent attempts to undermine the value of Inspector Fox’s interview, many in the Newcastle and broader Australian community regarded him as a hero for triggering the royal commission,” he says.

In turn, Peter praised the media for its role in bringing about the inquiry.

Over decades, journalists and editors from almost all Australian television networks, news radio programs, major and regional newspapers, as well as online media, have chipped away at institutional denials and evasion.

Without the work of the press, the dark secrets of some churches, governments, charities, schools and other organisations would have remained forever untold.

John Ellis: A survivor finally heard

John Ellis was a key witness in one of the most dramatic royal commission public hearings.

The lawyer says the nation’s largest inquiry into child abuse has made Australia a better place.

“The way that they’ve gone about it has answered every challenge,” he says.

John Ellis.

PHOTO: John Ellis says the Catholic Church still has no uniform approach to survivors. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

“The selection of commissioners themselves has been inspired. How they’ve dealt with the people … in private sessions, and what they’ve given to those people, is priceless.

“They treat the survivors who are coming to them as dignitaries.”

The royal commission based its protocols for welcoming survivors on a diplomatic services model.

Abused by a Catholic priest as a boy, John famously sued the church for common law damages in 2002.

The Catholic Church’s lawyers were instructed to “vigorously” defend the Church, and defeated his claim in a High Court decision five years later.Sorry, this video has expiredVIDEO: John Ellis on what the child abuse royal commission means to him(ABC News)

The royal commission heard evidence from John, church officials and lawyers. It gave all an insight into the tactics of the church’s legal team.

At the end of the hearing, Cardinal George Pell conceded the church dealt with John unfairly from “a Christian point of view”. The cardinal later issued the survivor an apology.

Looking back at his daunting role in the inquiry, John says, “I had the sense, really, as soon as the royal commission was announced that this was going to be a momentous time in our country”.

“What I didn’t realise was how important it would be for me personally as an individual to finally be listened to the first time. 

And to be able to stand up to an institution like the church, I can’t put into words what that’s meant for me.

John and his wife Nicola, also a lawyer, represent many survivors seeking redress for the crimes committed against them.

In 2014, he was awarded the Australian Lawyers Alliance annual Civil Justice Award for “unwavering diligence, passion, vision and resilience”.

He says the Catholic Church still has no uniform approach to survivors seeking justice.

“There are parts of the Catholic Church who have been integral in working towards collaborative processes that we’ve developed,” John says.

“And there have been parts of the Catholic Church who have impeded that and sought to destroy it and break it down. I think I’ll reserve judgement on where that stands on balance.

“I think in a lot of ways it remains to be seen, and particularly after the spotlight of the royal commission is off, the church as a whole … which way it will go with that.”

He doubts the Commonwealth Government’s national redress scheme will achieve all its aims.

“I think it’s a good thing and a necessary thing. And it’s an essential part of the whole response that there be a safety net for the thousands and thousands of people who otherwise would have no avenue to redress, and would have no institution to approach for what had happened to them.

“But as a substitute for proper and effective responses from the institutions, I don’t think that that’s the answer.”

Watch Undeniable on iview.

Topics: community-and-societychild-abusecatholic,royal-commissionsballarat-3350newcastle-2300,melbourne-3000canberra-2600nswvicact

First posted 12 Dec 2017, 4:39am