The Sydney Morning Herald
July 27, 2012
A VICTIM of sexual abuse – by a Catholic priest – who wrote to a government inquiry into clergy sexual abuse was referred to a Catholic agency, less than a week after the committee’s chief executive assured The Age such a conflict could not happen.
Peter Blenkiron, of Ballarat, was appalled when he was referred to Centacare, a Catholic agency he found ”terrible” when he first reported his abuse several years ago.
He wrote on July 10 to the parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations seeking a simpler method for victims to be heard.
Committee chairwoman Georgie Crozier replied on Wednesday.
Her email included a referral to the Victims Support Agency, which funds a statewide network of victim assistance programs. In Ballarat and Geelong, the program is run by the Catholic agency Centacare.
Mr Blenkiron said being referred to a Catholic agency would lead many victims to avoid the inquiry. He said the issue was broken trust at the deepest level.
”[Abuse] screws up your ability to ever really trust. Blokes out there are struggling to trust, and are told to go back to an arm of the Catholic Church.”
But it was important for victims to be heard. ”The abuse is the snakebite. The venom is the shame, the silence, the secrecy. To talk about it is the antidote.”
The committee’s executive officer, Dr Janine Bush, told The Age last week that committee staff had noted the possible conflict created by using Centacare and acted to avoid it.
”We made it clear that there will be no referrals to religion-based agencies,” she said.
She said parliamentary inquiries committee staff did not usually provide tailored support to prepare submissions for public hearings, but it was available for this inquiry.
Dr Bush could not be contacted yesterday, but the director of Centacare Ballarat, David Beaver, said no victims had approached it since the inquiry was announced. If any did, Centacare would refer them to other non-Catholic agencies.
Mr Blenkiron said he was one of an informal group of 15 Ballarat victims at various stages of healing. He said when he read the submission guidelines, his ”eyes glazed over”, and many victims with post-traumatic stress disorder and difficulties concentrating would be put off. A simple online questionnaire should be an option, he said.
When he was 11, he said, ”Christian Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan (jailed in 1996) would set us up by giving us homework way beyond our capacity. When we couldn’t get it done we’d be punished, comforted, then abused.”
Some advocacy groups are offering to help victims prepare submissions, including the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and Sexual Assault Victims Advocates, run by Helen Last and former Victoria Police sexual crimes squad head Glenn Davies.
Top QC Bryan Keon-Cohen has written to more than 300 Victorian parish priests, urging them to make submissions.
Abuse inquiry process too hard for victims
ABC Australia (abc.net.au)
Liz Hobday reported this story on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 18:38:00
MATT PEACOCK: The closing date for submissions to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into abuse by religious organisations is almost due. But some abuse survivors who want to take part have told the ABC the submission process is simply too difficult.
And there are concerns the inquiry may miss out on hearing important evidence because of a lack of support for abuse survivors.
Liz Hobday reports.
LIZ HOBDAY: Ballarat man Peter Blenkiron was abused by a Christian brother at his school when he was 11 years old.
PETER BLENKIRON: He used to set amounts of homework that were beyond our capacity and then when we didn’t get the quantities done or if we got parts wrong we’d be punished; sent down the back of the class, the rest of the class was made to look the other way. He’d then get down the back of the class and punish us, bring us to tears, comfort us and then, abuse us.
LIZ HOBDAY: Now, he wants to make a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious organisations, but he’s battling post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his abuse and is on medication.
PETER BLENKIRON: I have trouble doing things like filling out an order for my daughter’s tuckshop – any sort of forms, any sort of paperwork I have trouble with, let alone paperwork that is tied in with the abuse that caused the emotional trauma.
LIZ HOBDAY: The parliamentary inquiry was announced last April, but there have been persistent questions about the inquiry’s resources and independence, and the fact that none of the six MPs running the inquiry have any legal experience.
Peter Blenkiron organised for a letter to the inquiry to be written on his behalf, explaining that he and other abuse survivors he knows will have trouble participating in the inquiry process. He says the inquiry may miss out on hearing valuable evidence because it’s too hard for people to participate.
PETER BLENKIRON: Without any doubt. Without any doubt. There’s guys out there that I know of that the only way you’re going to get any sort of submission is if somebody came to Ballarat, sat with them. But they’ll still struggle with that because you’ve got to remember this is about broken trust.
LIZ HOBDAY: A 10 page submission guide released this month states that as well as written submissions, the inquiry will also accept oral evidence and people can appear before the inquiry panel. The inquiry states that support is available for people who want to participate, through the State Government-funded Victims Support Agency.
But victims’ advocate Helen Last from the group In Good Faith and Associates says she’s spoken to half a dozen abuse survivors who’ve still found the inquiry process overwhelming.
HELEN LAST: They certainly have. Yes they’ve been contacting me and saying that they’ve tried to use the guidelines off the website and they’ve found themselves very overwhelmed within the first couple of questions and they’ve had to give up.
LIZ HOBDAY: Glenn Davies is the former head of the sex crimes squad at Victoria police. He’s been working with Helen Last to run information sessions for victims, to offer them independent support through the inquiry process.
GLENN DAVIES: Support has been limited. It has been sporadic and whether it’s been appropriate or not is something that we’re still trying to ascertain.
We’re getting reports back from victims who find what supports are available confusing. They’re being referred to counsellors and support networks who actually don’t understand the landscape of this problem.
LIZ HOBDAY: The shadow attorney-general, Labor’s Martin Pakula says the inquiry committee should be listening to comments like these.
MARTIN PAKULA: If members of public want to give evidence, those that have been victims in the past or families of victims, if they don’t believe the support is adequate then the committee and the Government needs to take a hard look at that.
The committee should be bending over backwards to make the process of giving evidence as easy as possible; should be minimising trauma, minimising inconvenience. That includes going out to the regions where the victims are and certainly the Government and the committee are going to have to take very seriously any complaints by victims that the process is too complicated.
LIZ HOBDAY: The Victorian Government announced at least six extra staff members for the inquiry late yesterday, including senior legal counsel. It says it encourages people to contribute using the inquiry committee’s comprehensive guide. The inquiry is due to report to parliament in April next year.
MATT PEACOCK: Liz Hobday reporting.