How we have failed our child sex abuse survivors

CHILD abuse lawyer Lisa Flynn, who represented the father of a deceased victim of former Catholic Church Cardinal George Pell*, has today written a powerful op-ed calling for Australia to better protect its children. Ms Flynn, based at Sawtell, says Australia only has to look to the past to see how as a society we have failed children in what has been a year of action achieving justice for victims.

Child abuse lawyer Lisa Flynn.
Child abuse lawyer Lisa Flynn.

THIS week is Children's Week in Australia and as a nation we must use this time to reflect on the rights of all children and, unfortunately, how we have failed so many.

Really, what is more important than the safety of our children?

I am a mother-of-three little ones, who I try to provide the best possible childhood for - one where they feel safe, loved and secure.

Most of us do, but trust me, there are far too many damaged children out there paying the shocking, often lifelong, price of being sexually abused by selfless, disturbed members of our society.

Yes, I am over exposed to the suffering of children in my role as an abuse lawyer, but it's a confronting issue that everyone needs to know the severity of and be talking about if we are to eradicate this unforgivable crime from our communities.

I see far too many irreparably damaged people whose childhoods were horrifically stripped from them by people who they trusted, who did unthinkable things to them.

Their adult lives often are characterised by a deep wariness of people, of shame and self-doubt, of drinking and drug addictions, of serious mental health battles.

For too long, society told our children that they were to be seen and not heard.

If they dared to speak out about an adult who wasn't doing the right thing - they were told to keep quiet, or accused of making up lies.

Innocent children who should be free of suffering, playing with bare feet without a care in the world, bore the burden of keeping their abuse buried inside them, which eventually rears its ugly head.

Finally, it feels like the tide is turning.

Recently, I have been inspired by young adolescents, not long ago children themselves, who are coming forward, showing extreme courage and talking about what happened to them as children.

Standing up and saying that being violated was wrong and that it should never have happened.

The common theme I hear from my adolescent clients is that they are speaking out to protect other children from the suffering they experienced.

These people are nothing short of heroes.

When they decide to seek justice, they have to relive the terror in detail but they push through this pain determined to stop other children from being stripped of their happiness, their blissful freedom - their childhood.

Tiffany was significantly let down by the Department of Child Protection in QLD, when time after time, they knowingly placed her back in to a house where she was being sexually abused by her step-father.

They ripped her from a loving and supportive foster family and forced her to live with a man who had been convicted of child sexual assault offences.

The department had substantiated complaints of abuse against Tiff when she was as young as two-years-old.

When Tiff turned 18 she spoke out publicly about how grossly the system failed her, despite suffering severe mental illness as a result of horrific abuse over many years, Tiff is able to articulately tell her story and the need for change.

Tiff has shown maturity beyond her years to drive her case against the system and expose the department to the public.

She is a courageous young woman who has motivated many others to come forward and say 'no more' - all with the aim of making positive change for future children in care.

Emma is another young teenager who I have the privilege of currently representing.

Emma is also 18 years old.

She reported the sexual abuse she endured by a female teacher when she was a student at an elite private girls school in Melbourne, she was barely ten years old when she was exposed to unimaginable sexual acts.

Emma has bared her soul and her deepest darkest secrets to ensure that other innocent children don't have to endure what she did.

The courage shown by victims like Tiff and by Emma never ceases to amaze me.

At such tender ages these young yet strong woman are taking control of their lives and not allowing disgusting perpetrators to ruin them as they grow into young ladies and eventually become mothers.

They are prepared to deal with what happened to them early and this is vital to their healing.

It is the courage of survivors of child abuse that gives me the strength to continue doing what I do, which can be a heart-breaking job.

I am beyond inspired that this change is happening and people as young as 18 are seeking justice.

They are not keeping quiet like they are told to by their abusers and allowing substance abuse to rule their lives as they age.

They are seeking help and holding their abusers to account.

It's a promising trend and certainly one way to put a stop to child abuse - 'Young people are talking about it!' Our messages as parents and educators are sinking in.

'Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable is not ok.'

'Always no matter what tell mummy and daddy about anything and everything, you will never ever be in trouble.'

On Children's Day this year - I stand and applaud every survivor of child abuse that has chosen to pull themselves from their darkness and detail what happened to them with the view of making the world a safer and happier place for the children of today and our children of tomorrow.

 

FOOTNOTE: *George Pell the former head of the Australian Catholic Church was sentenced to six years prison for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral when he was the Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.

He will be eligible for parole after serving a term of three years and eight months.

The 78-year-old's final avenue of appeal is to the High Court.

In their application of appeal, Pell's lawyers, led by Bret Walker SC, yesterday said the appellant division of the Supreme Court was wrong when it dismissed Pell's first appeal in August by a majority of two judges to one.

 

*For 24-hour sexual violence support  call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. The Suicide Call Back service is on 1300 659 467.