Child abusers flourish when good people say nothing
The report released yesterday by Justice Blaxell in Western Australia, shows that a countless number of board members in a WA hostel and a principal along with family members, ignored the allegations of sexual abuse made against Dennis John Mckenna – a warden at St. Andrews Hostel, Katanning.
They failed in their responsibility to prioritise and protect the young students. These failures began in the 1970s and have taken until now to come completely to light – how did these rumours and allegations go unnoticed?
This report shows the urgent need for accurate and proper reporting processes in our society to help put a stop to child abuse. ASCA is calling this to action – Australia needs all citizens to comply with the immediate reporting of any suspicion or knowledge of any child being abused to police or child protection authorities.
This inquiry highlights the urgency with which closed hierarchical institutions and systems must be opened to scrutiny. Without transparent independent investigation it is impossible to establish the facts. Importantly such inquiries are vital to identify and implement the changes needed to protect future victims from the same fate.
One must ask how one man’s crimes could have gone undetected for so long? The report gives us a chilling answer. They were not undetected but rather compounded by people who were complicit in keeping his crimes a secret, people in positions of authority and responsibility who should have acted to protect the child victims - parents, teachers, principals and County and hostel board members.
There were recommendations for 24 adverse findings brought against 11 people made by counsel assisting the inquiry. These findings suggest that 11 people failed to act on information that Dennis John McKenna was inappropriately dealing with the children in his care.
Child sexual assault is a cruel and destructive crime. When those in a position to stop it do nothing and when communities are complicit in maintaining a culture of silence, secrecy and collective denial the human cost is incalculable.
The courage of many victims in coming forward to break their silence, and shatter that pattern of secrecy, is to be lauded. Doing so means overcoming the shame, fear and conditioning of their assaults.
They have spoken out for themselves as well as for those who cannot speak, some having paid the ultimate price through suicide.
One wonders how many more such inquiries will be needed before justice and victims’ rights prevail? A parliamentary inquiry is underway into religious and organizational abuse in Victoria.
Calls in NSW for a Royal Commission, which ASCA fully supports, into child sexual abuse as well as nationally, including in jurisdictions as diverse as the ADF and religious and organizational settings are gaining momentum.
It is time for broad-based cultural change where the protection of our children becomes everyone’s business, where victims are supported when they speak in a culture of acceptance with understanding and hope towards recovery. Where justice prevails and perpetrators and those who conceal their crimes are brought to account.
As the findings of this report are lodged, we, members of an advanced Western society, stand shocked and horrified by the decimation of our children within organisations and communities charged with their care. From Penn State University, to Catholic and other clergy abuse, to abuse within the ADF, we have daily evidence of the scandal of close abusive systems.
Yet even today victims speaking out are invalidated, blamed and punished for their own victimisation. They, and those who support them, have often been publicly discredited and ostracised, and the repercussions of abuse, minimised and dismissed. Such complicity as revealed in the Blaxell report leaves perpetrators free to prey on more victims and commit more crimes.
Dennis Mckenna, the worst offender in the current report, was a trusted adult in a position of authority. He groomed, manipulated and violated his young charges for over fifteen years.
McKenna plied them with treats and inappropriate attention, befriended their families and community members and ingratiated himself into their favour. And like so many paedophiles he rationalised his own behaviour.
McKenna, currently serving his second jail term, convicted for crimes against 10 victims, is facing 66 new charges relating to 16 new alleged victims. Sadly this may only be the tip of the iceberg. The average paedophile has between 50 and 150 victims.
Child abuse at its core is an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. We cannot afford for child sexual assault to be a silent crime any longer. It is time to end secrecy and denial. Within the small community of Katanning many people knew or suspected that Dennis McKenna’s behaviour was abusive but yet they didn’t speak up. The report evidences similar patterns in other communities and institutions.
If support is needed please call ASCA’s support line on 1300 657 380 or visit the website www.asca.org.au
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