‘So many I’m sorry’s’: Why some survivors of sexual abuse won’t or can’t go to the national apology

NBN U.K. News

NBN U.K. News

Posted October 22, 2018 05:50:46

Today’s national apology to survivors of child sexual abuse marks a historic and highly anticipated moment for many, but others have decided not to, or can’t, make the trip to Canberra.

Geoff Meyers, now 82, grew up in the Royleston Boys Home in the Sydney suburb of Glebe during the 1940s and experienced physical and sexual abuse from the age of five.

It continued for almost a decade.

“You’re living it all the time,” he said.

“I watch the news, I watch movies, I read the papers, and I see it happening every day of the week.

“It’s just a reminder of when I was a child, and it’s pretty terrifying actually.”

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Mr Meyers has never had any interest in going to Canberra for the apology.

“I believe this apology is being done for the people overseas,” he said.

“So they can look back at Australia and say, ‘oh, these people are sorry for what they’ve done’.

“Well I’m sorry too, because they’re still doing it to children today.”

Redress ‘way under the limit’

Mr Meyers believes the Federal Government’s redress amount is not enough for survivors.

He has lodged an application for compensation, but says there is no point apologising if the signature scheme is not up to scratch.

“The recommendation from the royal commission was redress of $200,000, which was way under the limit in any case,” he said.

“The Government cut it down to $150,000 in their wisdom.”

Head of Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) Leonie Sheedy also considered boycotting the national apology because of concerns about the redress scheme.

She was unhappy about the application requiring victim impact statements; re-traumatising survivors and being made available to institutions.

But she has changed her mind since the Prime Minister met with her and promised to make changes.

“I think I can turn up there now with the love and support of [my husband] Warren, and I think all the care leavers of Australia, they need to have the love and support of the head of CLAN,” she told the ABC.

‘They’re not sorry for what they did to me as a child’

Peter Gogarty was abused by a Catholic Priest in the 1970s in the New South Wales Hunter Region.

He told the ABC he has decided not to go, either.

“I think it’s probably really important that there is some sort of national apology,” he said.

“But my concern is that we’ve had a lot of apologies from institutions in recent years, and so many ‘I’m sorry’s’, but I still think there’s a lot of action lacking that would really put some meat on those apologies.

“And I just don’t see it, so I suppose at the moment, I’m indifferent at best.”

Mr Gogarty wants to see a regulatory body established, similar to the banking regulator APRA, to monitor all institutions involved.

For others, questions remain about the entire focus of the event.

Yvonne Smith was abused in state care when she was eight years old.

When she spoke to the ABC, she had not decided whether she was going to attend the national apology.

But she expressed concerns about its scope and sincerity.

“It’s good for the people that really need it,” she said.

“But I feel it’s not affecting me in a way, because they’re not sorry for what they did to me as a child, and it’s affected me all my life.”

Ms Smith is concerned the royal commission, and the response to it, concentrates only on survivors who were sexually abused.

“I just feel very sad that we weren’t included,” she said.

The courage to put children first

For others who can’t attend, it will still be an emotional moment.

Tony Duffy from Toowoomba is terminally ill, and his family hopes he will still be alive for Christmas.

His wife, Karen, said he was put into care at homes run by the Salvation Army from the age of seven.

“It was physical and sexual abuse, the worst of the worst,” she said.

“If he was never in any of those care homes he wouldn’t have ended up taking the path that he did and ending up with hepatitis C from drug use, and now liver cancer which he’s dying from.”

Mr Duffy’s health is deteriorating rapidly, or he would be there in Canberra.

But today’s apology will still mean a lot from a distance.

“Tony will be feeling very relieved that there has been recognition, that people are stepping up and saying sorry,” Mrs Duffy said.

“They are getting recognition for what really did happen, and it’s not getting brushed under the carpet.”

But many would argue there is still a long way to go before child sexual abuse is a crime of the past.

Joanne McCarthy was the reporter at the Newcastle Herald whose stories brought the issue to the front of the public’s mind.

She has been writing about it and talking to survivors since 2006.

“Every single day I have something to do with institutional child sexual abuse, whether it’s somebody contacting me by various means — and that’s been the case since about 2008,” Ms McCarthy said.

She thinks a national apology is important because it expresses sorrow and is “a sign of a grown-up nation”.

But she wants people to give more thought to the children around them and to what could be happening to them, and to put their safety first.

“Are people prepared to step up? Are they prepared to look? Are they prepared to ask a question? Are they prepared to contact authorities?”

“And then when they contact authorities, are there appropriate responses from those government authorities?”

At the royal commission, Ms McCarthy was struck by the evidence given by people who had worked in institutions — not just the leaders.

“They had an opportunity to go one way or the other way, to act with kindness or to act with coldness and a chilling sort of bureaucratic response,” she said.

“And so I wonder, and a few other people wonder, whether enough people have really thought that one through; that sometimes it takes a little bit of courage to say this is wrong and to do something about it.”

Topics: child-abuse, sexual-offences, community-and-society, federal-government, australia