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.

You must, must speak up for them…

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

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

Most commented


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    • acotrel says:

      09:08am | 20/09/12

      ‘Say nothing’ ?  What about the clergy who pervert the course of justice ?

    • Philip says:

      01:53pm | 20/09/12

      what about here in sa where the famiIy murders happened those creeps are sti about and sti incharge of the judiciary and in the govt departments.

    • Mark says:

      09:54am | 20/09/12

      But good people did say something in Katanning…. Mrs Dawkins was run out of a job and town for raising valid concerns.  Prosecutions should extend to those who colluded with the criminals and did a grave injustice to one of the few voices who pointed to the occurrence of wrongdoing.

    • bystander says:

      10:05am | 20/09/12

      It’s easy to call for “openness” and “transparency”. It’s easy to say people should “speak up”. But the social and emotional costs of speaking out are often devastating. The person who speaks up is often vilified, their reputation trashed, their career ruined and - worst of all - they lose the child they are trying to protect.
      For example, a parent who brings their concerns of sexual abuse of their child/ren before the courts often do so on the basis of what their children have told them. Of course,  this sort of abuse always happens in secret, behind closed doors and there is little ‘proof’ that would stand the tests of ‘evidence’ in the courtroom. Often there are not medical records to substantiate the claims of abuse because there are no marks left by the perpetrator - not physical ones any way. So all that the parent has is the say-so of an innocent child that has confided in them trustung that the parent will make it all OK - make the pain and the hurt go away. So the parent does the right thing and goes to ‘the authorities’ and they are treated as vindictive, calculating and untrustworthy.  Many, many parents are advised by their legal team to drop allegations of sexual abuse; they are told that they will be viewed by the court as ‘hostile’ to the other parent for raising their concerns. And the court will, as it does in so many cases around Australia, remove the child/ren from the care of the parent who raises the concerns, delivering them to the questionable care of the parent against whom the child raised the concerns. The parent raising the concerns should have kept their mouth shut, said nothing and continued the regime of silence. At least that way they would still be in a position to try and help the child/ren; try to informally stop the abuse and put barriers in the way of the perpetrator.
      Be warned - if you raise concerns about the abuse of your child with the courts, you may well lose that/those child/ren.
      The system is failing children all around Australia. It is failing good parents who speak out. The system is entrenching child sexual abuse and it’s working to protect the perpetrators. No wonder the incidents and costs of child sexual abuse are escalating year on year. The system is broken and it’s breaking the hearts and lives of too many innocent people.

    • Stephan says:

      10:13am | 20/09/12

      There is a genuine problem that I cannot lable adequately enough around ALL of the things we seem to be stressing about these days.

      Child abuse, prejudice, political correctness, etc, etc, etc.

      All I can see and hear are a shitload of people crying “wolf”.  It tends to drown out the very real evil that has always been there.

    • lostinperth says:

      10:16am | 20/09/12

      Whilst I agree with your motives, and protecting children from abuse must be paramount, the methods employed are self defeating.

      I also find it strange, that if the protection of children is the main goal, that there are very few organisations set up to help the child victims of emotional abuse, neglect and physical abuse. Where are the organisations pressing for the naming and shaming of the mothers who commit those crimes?There is overwhelming evidence that these other forms of abuse is equally as destructive as sexual abuse to the victims. The majority of these abusers are women and mothers, yet women seem overwhelming focus on sexual abuse and men as the abusers. No court will hand a child back to a sexually abusive father, yet they go out of their way to hand back abused children to their mothers after the mother “promises to be good”.

      By painting all men as potential pedophiles you now have the situation where single men cannot sit next to unaccompanied children on planes, some primary schools do not have a single male teacher because of the fear of being stigmatised as a sexual predator, men cannot help lost or hurt children for fear of being attacked as trying to groom them or abuse them.

      Perhaps a reason why people are reluctant to label others is that they have seen the wolf packs that the ACA’s and other media subject anyone acused of sexual abuse to. When their are lyynch mobs ready to attack anyone that is accused of sexual, reasonable people hesitate to subject a potentially innocent person to their hatred. Even if they are totally innocent, the accusations stick and Hetty Johnston’s of the world regard them as automatically guilty. There are quite a few cases of people accused of sexual abuse being murdered before they get a chance to prove their innocence - and they are entitled to the presumption of innocence.

      Unless I had definite proof and not just a paranoid suspicion brought on by a paranoid media, I would be reluctant to name someone due to the damage they will suffer regadless of their guilt.

      While we are on the subject, why doesn’t your organisation press for more treatment programs. Studies have shown that offenders who successfully complete their treatment have one of the lowest re-offending rate of any criminal. Yet the WA government withdrew all funding from the most successful treatment program causing it to stop treating people.

      You cannot change the past, but remaining silent on the removal of successful treatment programs should be regarded as the same as those who stay silent with evidence of sexual abuse.

    • A victim says:

      12:12pm | 20/09/12

      Yes, men are the real victims of child sexual abuse. Why this issue isn’t framed around men’s rights is obviously discriminatory and vilification. Child sexual abuse won’t go away until men are left out of the subject and women are put firmly in the spotlight, because as everybody knows, women commit more sexual offenses than men. Yet another instance where men are suffering in silence everyday. Hetty johnson doesn’t care about children, she only cares about picking on men. In fact, anyone who claims they are worried about any sexual crimes are not revealing their real motive, which is picking on men. Child sexual abuse is abuse against men. The author should hang her head in shame at not naming the real victims of child sexual abuse - men.

    • Bev says:

      01:42pm | 20/09/12

      I totally endorse you comment.  Fact 85% of abuse of children is not sexual and the vast majority of physical, mental abuse and neglect is perpertrated by mothers (majority single) /women.  Our child protection services are snowed under by the dramatic increase in child abuse, the absolute majority of which is not sexual. It is interesting to note that up till 2003 child abuse perpertrators were categorized (men, women, fathers and mothers) now the gender of the perpertrators is hidden (parents and others only).  Only sexual abuse is broken down by gender. Since sexual abuse is mainly by men one has to wonder what agenda is at work here. Especially since this lack of statistical breakdown has coincided with an increased push to blame the majority of child abuse on men/fathers.  Other abuse (the vast majority) which can be equally devastating to a childs development is down played or ignored.

      @A victim   I know you must be hurting and I symphathise however demonizing men will not solve child abuse.

    • lostinperth says:

      02:21pm | 20/09/12

      @ A victim - you prove my case. You ignore everything I said that related to the article and blame everything on men.

      I have no idea if you are a victim or its just a fancy name you decided to use - but demonising men will neither take away your pain or prevent a single child being abused in the future.

      Actually in some ways men are victims of sexual abuse. When a man is too afraid to approach a child who is hurt if a father cannot hug their child in public, when men are too afraid to be primary school teachers because they may be labelled a pedophile; then yes they are victims.

      Your response is typical of the slightly hysterical over-reaction that leads to the lynch mob mentality that acts to prevent people reporting actions in the first place due to the damage that may be caused if the “perpetrator” is innocent.

    • forget-me-not says:

      12:13pm | 20/09/12

      those of us whose lives have been destroyed by abuse in our childhood still walk unseen among you. 
      many whose lives have been blighted now fight a never-ending battle with mental illness. 
      the stigma, as well as the damage to our brains/minds that makes us so damaged,  there is no place in public healthcare to help those who are so twisted out of true that they barely survive.
      we are still haunted, and we still lose, still need help and care that is unavailable.

    • Saints 98 Demons 42 says:

      02:01pm | 20/09/12

      child abuse is the basis of catholic schools and catholicism!

      show more religious tolerance for catholic beliefs


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