Last month Malcolm Turnbull announced he would make a national apology to past victims of child abuse in institutions and pay them compensation of up to $150,000 each. The institutions concerned, mainly churches but also various government and community service providers, will contribute to what is expected to be a total compensation fund of around $4 billion. One of the important recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is that part of this money be used to help victims’ recovery by training thousands of community counselling staff so that, in the words of Julia Gillard when she initiated the Royal Commission in 2012, Australia can be sure this kind of abuse “never ever happens again”.
There is little doubt that Turnbull is keen to deliver this apology. He will gain almost universal praise from the mainstream media, and the electorate at large will feel it has slain another of the moral monsters this country has purportedly inherited from our awful past. As Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard found with their respective apologies to the Stolen Generations and the victims of forced adoptions, this kind of gesture not only provides a publicity opportunity completely free of partisan criticism, it stamps the deliverer as a committed crusader in the cause of social justice.
But for anyone with a genuinely inquiring eye, it is not hard to see that almost everything connected with such apologies is the product of misplaced morality, massaged statistics and special pleading.
Keith Windschuttle’s column appears every month in Quadrant.
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For a start, in apologising on behalf of the nation for child abuse, the Prime Minister would be wrongly attributing blame. The nation itself has never approved of child sexual abuse. Indeed, all states and territories have long had laws against it. As the Royal Commission notes in its final report: “Each state and territory has a set of child welfare laws, a child protection system, and a system of reporting and investigating child sexual abuse … Arrangements are broadly similar and sit within a national framework for child welfare and protection and international obligations on children’s rights.”
The blame for crimes of pederasty lie squarely with those who perpetrate them. To say otherwise is to deny the basic idea of all morality, that individuals are responsible for their actions. While institutions can bear some responsibility for crimes if they encourage or tolerate them, or turn a blind eye, and while court cases of individual prosecutions have established clearly some institutional failings of this kind, it is plainly wrong to blame the nation. There is nothing for the Prime Minister to apologise for. It is a blatantly hollow gesture.
Although the Royal Commission and the media who have fawned on its assertions have worked hard to demonise the Catholic Church, the commission’s own statistics show otherwise. The biggest single group of victims were not altar boys or choristers, or even Catholic school students, but inmates of out-of-home care institutions, that is, foster care households and homes for the disabled, orphans and homeless. Apart from that, one apparently obvious inference from the report’s statistics is that it is mainly boys who are victims (63.6 per cent) and it is mainly adult men who are the perpetrators (92.8 per cent male, and 83.8 per cent adult). In short, child abuse in institutions seems to be committed mainly by homosexual men, preying on vulnerable and disturbed children displaced from their own families.
However, not even this broad conclusion is reliable. The Commission’s figures are all based on 9325 verbal and written accusations, none of them formally cross-examined. Of these, the Commission could only refer 2562, or 27 per cent, to the police. In other words, three out of four complainants did not provide good enough evidence to take the matter any further. Moreover, a referral to the police does not automatically entail a conviction. Given that the law demands far more rigorous proof of guilt than the Commission’s own fishing expedition, the number found guilty is likely to be only a fraction of that figure.
In other words, the $342 million the Commonwealth spent on the Royal Commission will not produce much of value in return. This should not come as a surprise. Neither of the other inquiries of this kind have been any different. They have been more concerned with publicising the accusations of the victims than testing the veracity of their claims.
The three commissions have all had the same basic methodology. They have determined their conclusion at the outset. They have been appointed to investigate a serious social problem and their aim is to find evidence to quantify the problem and offer policy solutions. The concept of evidence is defined as anything that supports the pre-determined conclusion. Anyone can make accusations and, indeed, has an incentive to do so, some through the lure of compensation, others through the appeal of public victimhood.
Even worse, the accused are in the invidious position of being regarded as guilty until proven innocent—the reversal of our traditional norm of legal justice, and a disreputable approach for any Royal Commission to adopt.
Hence the statistics that inquiries of this kind provide are simply compilations of grievance, many of which are no doubt genuine but a lot which are notoriously unreliable. In fact, in September last year some inconvenient evidence emerged in the press that, on its own, was sufficient to seriously question not only the Royal Commission’s estimate of the size of its problem but, more importantly, of its policies to solve it.
In the Australian newspaper’s Weekend Magazine of September 30, 2017, Richard Guilliatt profiled Dr Cathy Kezelman, a former Sydney GP who remade her career in the field of child sexual abuse. In 2010 Kezelman wrote the book Innocence Revisited about her own childhood abuse by her father. She soon became figurehead for the movement that, under the later name of Blue Knot Foundation, emerged as the peak body representing adult abuse victims. Kezelman’s ideas were quickly embraced by Julia Gillard, who launched the group at Parliament House in 2012 and granted Commonwealth funding that eventually reached $1.37 million a year. Kezelman gained an important position within the Royal Commission, which strongly endorsed her work. Today, she is one of the fifteen members of the advisory panel devising the compensation and counselling scheme for the Turnbull government’s response to the Commission’s report.
Richard Guilliatt’s article recorded that in Innocence Revisited Kezelman claimed she had been violently sexually abused from the ages of four to fourteen by her father and by a sadistic, hooded pedophile cult led by her father’s mother. The abuse was so traumatic, she wrote, that her mind fragmented into multiple personalities. Since her book launch in 2010, she has told her story in public many times, including two appearances before the child abuse Royal Commission itself. She says she had no recollection of being sexually abused until she began psychotherapy at the age of forty-four. However, after suffering deep depression and terrifying nightmares of sexual abuse, she consulted a psychologist who interpreted her dreams as “flashbacks” of real events she had long suppressed. She then began “remembering” being raped by her father and a family friend in her bedroom of their home in Brisbane. He was a manic figure who beat her “black and blue” if she resisted. She remembered the assaults recurring in the home for several years.
However, Guilliatt, who made a name for himself through books exposing satanic cults, repressed memories and other psychological myths, persuaded Kezelman’s brother, Claude Imhoff, also a former GP, to respond to her claims. “I utterly refute everything Catherine states in her book about our father and grandmother,” Imhoff told him. “It’s not that I don’t remember those things, I can categorically state that those events never happened.” Imhoff said he was certain of this because he had shared a bedroom with his sister in their Brisbane home until she was ten. Moreover, their father was nothing like the man she portrayed in her book. Kezelman’s response was that her brother was suffering “traumatic amnesia” and needed psychotherapy himself.
The following week, their ninety-four-year-old mother broke her long silence and also responded publicly in the Australian. Lusia Puterman, a Holocaust survivor who came to Australian in 1947, wrote that she and her daughter were best friends until 1998, when Kezelman had a mental breakdown and entered psychotherapy. Mrs Puterman wrote that her daughter’s recovered memories “stem only from Cathy’s mind” and it would have been impossible for such abuse to occur in their small family home without anyone else noticing.
If Malcolm Turnbull’s government goes ahead with his current proposal, the methods of Kezelman and Blue Knot Foundation are very likely to become national policy. She has written the counselling guidelines that will be used to train the thousands of new staff appointed to sexual assault clinics, mental health wards and counselling centres. Hence, rather than this Royal Commission fulfilling Gillard’s objective that child sexual abuse “will never ever happen again”, it will virtually guarantee the opposite. The number of patients with recovered memories of such events will expand in direct correlation with the increasing number of sexual abuse counsellors.