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Empowering our Kids

November 21, 2012 – 9:51 am9 Comments

By Malki Rose
A government can only act as effectively and appropriately as the society that drives it. As a society we’ve dragged our heels where the rights of children are concerned.

Every morning we wake up, stretch our arms, and prepare ourselves for another day in a world where we profess to put children first, and where we wouldn’t stand for anything less than zero tolerance of abuse and mistreatment of children. But our inaction has told a very different story. While we give accolades and Facebook praise to those who speak up, very few would ever dream of acting.

In July 2011, the case of convicted child predator David Kramer was brought to light, and Manny Waks began his campaign against his alleged abuser and the institution which failed to protect him and many others. At that time, I wrote of a greater need not only to speak in hindsight, but to act swiftly to ensure that it is not another 20 years before individuals, families and society pay the price for the impact of abuse being committed today.

For all to act, not just those who have been abused, but also those who know of the abuse, regardless of whether they are bound by a duty of care and mandatory reporting. Mandatory morality should be by far the more binding value, especially in a community which prides itself on its moral high-ground.

After years of public outcry against the Catholic Church’s handling of abuse cases, and after campaigning from individuals such as Manny Waks,  lobbying by child advocacy groups and professionals, and submissions to government, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has finally seen fit to form a (limited) royal commission into child sexual abuse within religious groups and institutions.

The investigation has been welcomed by all as a positive step, but while the government launches its commendable efforts, the community must not rest on its laurels and presume everything will be fixed organically through this process. The need for advocacy and support for young people in our community is now beyond question.

The conversation has begun, lighting a fire under many, but terrifying others with the prospect of the sheer enormity and seemingly impossible magnitude of what is required. Blaming and politicizing will only further fragment an already dire situation.

Police investigations and legal process with several child predators must of course continue, but importantly only comprises the accountability or ‘crime & punishment’ aspect of this problem.  What is also required is a greater remedy at a preventative and psychological level.

Early last year, work began on establishing Australia’s first community operated Children’s Advocacy Centre in Caulfield, run exclusively to benefit , advocate for and empower children.  In its early stages, several focus groups and workshops were held with representatives from the Department of Human Services, Victoria Police, Jewish community support services, school counsellors, psychologists, lawyers, and paediatricians.

The objective was to examine the current state of services being offered by government departments and community groups, and ascertain how young people are accessing or able to access them. It was found that in some instances services exist but young people are unaware of them or unable to access them, and in other instances legislation, fear, or stigma prevents young people from being able to protect or empower themselves.

The centre, the first of its kind, aims to change the paradigm of advocacy and support for young people by steering away from terms like ‘victims’, supporting better education models, challenging current legislation, and removing community stigmas. Ultimately, the centre will work to create better channels to empower young people, and also better advocacy. The centre will provide much needed resources for emotional, financial, legal, and accommodation support.

The centre does not aim to reinvent any wheels already successfully deployed for the protection or advocacy of children, but rather will work together with government and community organisations to link into existing services and fill the many problematic gaps that exist between these valuable services.

In February 2013, the action group leading the establishment of the centre will launch the initiative at a working lunch hosted by Small Giants, a leader in social change. Child welfare workers and community service providers have welcomed the initiative as a productive and positive step forward in uniting current efforts being made by multiple parties to protect the rights and needs of children in our community.

The launch will be a unique opportunity for the action group, currently comprised of Psychologists, Lawyers, and individuals involved in Child welfare, to meet and discuss challenges and gaps. A three stage plan for the centre will be presented and workshopped.

To be involved in the Children’s Advocacy & Empowerment Centre or register your interest in attending the Action group launch, please contact Malki at mrpmanagement@tpg.com.au

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9 Comments »

  • TheSadducee says:

    “Prime Minister Julia Gillard has seen fit to form a (limited) royal commission into child sexual abuse within religious groups and institutions”

    -This is misleading.

    The discussion paper released by the Attorney General’s Dept. actually does NOT specify religious groups and institutions. It refers to “public and private institutions or organisations in Australia” only. This would include religious groups/institutions but is not solely limited to them.

    In addition, the whole process seems very confused and problematic – there is a 1 week turn around for feedback on the discussion paper, there are no terms of reference/scope, form of the Commission, no named Commissioner/s, no idea of length, there are suggestions of limiting testimonies etc.

    Although the sentiment is commendable, the start has not been auspicious, and hopefully things will be better handled from this point on.

  • frosh says:

    Saducee,

    You’ve interpreted “religious groups and institutions” as religious groups/ institutions.

    That’s fair enough, but I interpreted it as religious groups and *other* institutions.

    I see that it could be interpreted either way, and perhaps my brain merely picked the interpretation based on what I have already learnt from the newspaper and the radio.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Frosh

    Thanks and sorry to nit-pick about this one but I thought I would point that one out. The context does help a bit but their has been a very careful attempt to avoid using the word “religious” in Govt. discussions about this. It was pointed out in a cartoon in the Australian on 19/11.

    http://www.kudelka.com.au/2012/11/somethings-in-the-detail/

  • Malki Rose says:

    Sadducee,
    I tend to agree. It is extremely limited and so many people who have been abused have commented “what about my abuser who was not part of any institution” – in their case was a member of their family or a person in the community.
    Kinda why I referred to the Inquiry as simply “commendable”. That’s really about it, just a nicety. It would be fantastic if they were providing more information about scope, timeframe (someone mentioned 10 years just a few minutes ago.), and if it was an inquiry into not just institutional incidence of child sexual abuse but all forms of abuse (emotional, physical etc) in all contexts, etc. The vase majority of abuse cases shan’t even come close to being examined by the royal commission.

    But this is also why grassroots efforts like this one are so imperative. Whether they take 1 or 10 years, by the time something of any genuine value is produced by the government we’ll all be old and grey. So I feel that we should thank them for what they DO do (however limited and swimming in motherhood statements) and press on with what we, the community, MUST do.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Malki

    I think the community (broadly speaking) can understand the problems and the appropriate responses to them.

    What it needs to do is enforce these appropriate responses with actions – i.e. removing anyone who is accused of a crime until investigation clears them and publicly dissociating from anyone (and condemning them) who has been involved in cover-ups and/or less than transparent behaviour in these cases.

    Good luck with the advocacy centre and working lunch initiative.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Thanks Sadducee,
    And excuse the delay in response.
    But I feel the community, even broadly speaking, still has an extremely limited grasp on the “problems and appropriate responses to them.”

    such as …
    – Attaching stigmas to victims
    – Abusers are almost always men
    – Abuse is defined as rape/sexual
    – Viewing child abuse as an epidemic only in the orthodox community
    – Viewing child abuse as an epidemic in Institutions.
    – Seeing the need to tackle the problem on a ‘crime & punishment’ level only.

    And most importantly,
    – viewing the entire problem as something which requires a reaction/response, rather than an entire paradigm shift in prevention.i

    Most people in the Jewish community see this issue as affecting only the ultra orthodox community and feel that bringing religious organizations to account is key to resolving this.

    Although both are true, this is literally the tip of a hideous iceberg.

    As far as organizations are concerned, Parents and Staff in the King David, Bialik, Mt Scopus and Yavneh community also need to be coming forward and being more proactive in protecting their communities, as do non-school organizations such as Maccabi and Zionist Youth Organisations.
    Many of them feel they would
    a) Know about it in a more obvious way “if it were really true” i.e. visible injuries or
    b) if it happened outside of program hours or off premises it is “not a school or organization matter”.

    As far as addressing this at an organisational level, this approach fails to provide recourse to young people who have been abused by people OUTSIDE of organisations such as people in their families or family friends/colleagues/confidants.

    One friend remarked on her Facebook wall last week,
    “What about those of us who were abused by people in our family and can’t go and make an institute accountable… How do we get justice??”

    For starters, this person has refused to go to the police. Likewise with numerous other victims and parents from both religious and non religious circle who have either failed to protect their children, respond appropriately to abuse and even now as Police approach them for testimonies, still refuse to do so on the basis of it causing further trauma… Or worse, out of sheer denial.

    What people also fail to recognize is that the problem is growing and being vigilant, paranoid and punitive is not sufficient… And not always possible either.

    An enormous change in thought, approach and action is required at multiple levels to raise future generations of stronger young people.

    Young people who are as happy to chat with the school psychologist as they are to go to the school nurse for a panadol; young people who know how to protect themselves from being manipulated by abusers so that abusers are put ‘out of business’ and young people who never spend a single moment feeling different to their peers, invisible, unimportant and of lesser value.

    The purpose of the centre is not to be merely reactive, but more importantly PROACTIVE, empowering all young people to be in control of their present and future.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Malki

    Thanks for the response.

    I’m not certain but are you talking about child sexual abuse or child abuse more generally? Some of the points you raise in your list apply to either/or but it isn’t clear.

  • Malki Rose says:

    My point is precisely that they come under exactly the same banner.

    Call it ‘generally’ if you like. But one of the key limitations of the current approach is that ‘clear’ sexual abuse cases are categorized in a very over-simplified way and considered more ‘serious’ than less clear cut cases (which may or may not be sexual in nature) which are or involve cruel and unusual treatment of children.

    Wherever an adult is abusing a child (by whatever means) the same process is always in place, The adult manipulates, controls, damages and emotionally cripples a child for their own sick, twisted gain.

    Definitely not general, but rather highly specific. And where the pathology of the adult is the same, and the affect on the child the same, the education, punishment or preventative measures should match.

    Society has begun to recognise only the outskirts of one form of abuse and in a very limited context.

    It happens to other people’s kids, is not in their own families, not in their own schools, not in the their youth groups, only in religious environments, only perpetrated by men and always necessarily involves rape.

    The message being given to kids is that “no stranger can touch you inappropriately”. But abusers don’t just walk up to a child and pounce on them. Children have an inherent and taught trust for people they already know and don’t know how to recognize the abuse until it is well underway and they have no idea how to get out of it, or worse think that this must be appropriate because it is someone they care about that is hurting them.

    The understanding of, education of and approach to preventing ALL forms of child abuse need to change. They are all serious, all dangerous and all life destroying.
    And all part of the same highly specific pathology.

  • TheSadducee says:

    I agree – child sexual abuse is one category of child abuse which includes a number of issues (eg. neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse).

    I can’t agree with your assertion of uniform pathology and activity because abuse is perpetrated by a wide variety of individuals in a wide variety of circumstances and there are a wide range of factors which influence this.

    I’d recommend you to the AIFS website (http://www.aifs.gov.au/) which has a whole bunch of literature on this and which doesn’t appear to back your point of view on this particular point.

    Otherwise, good luck with your endeavour.

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