Will the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse investigate the Safe Schools campaign? There appears to be a clear case that it should, especially after the latest revelations about suspicious behaviour of its auspicing body, the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University. (“Parents in dark over sex survey”, The Australian, 4/3).
ARCSHS is the home of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, whose head is Roz Ward, the coordinator of the Safe Schools campaign in Victoria. Ward was one of the six authors of the From Blues to Rainbows report produced by ARCSHS operatives to promote the idea that youngsters it identifies as belonging to the ‘LGBTI community’ are especially susceptible to depression. This assertion was then used to justify the nationwide Safe Schools campaign directed at all pre-teen Australian children to promote LGBTI issues.
From Blues to Rainbows relied on data obtained in a deliberately clandestine manner. According to The Australian, “vulnerable teenagers as young as 14, including some who had suicidal thoughts, were secretly interviewed without parental knowledge about their gender and sexuality” by ARCSHS researchers. Children were recruited via social media, and the interviews were conducted via an online instant messenger platform, often in the evening to avoid parents finding out what was going on. The operation was promoted by LGBTI organizations and publications, as well as by the ABC’s Triple J.
This surreptitious strategy took advantage of the young peoples’ ready access to social media, as well as their vulnerability, naivety, trust in adults, and reliance on youth-orientated media like Triple J. It allowed the ARCSHS operatives to gain access to their favoured target group — people under the age of 18 — without parental knowledge or consent.
This also enabled them to identify “a highly vulnerable cohort”, about 60% of whom identified as transgender or ‘gender questioning’. Nearly two-thirds claimed to have suffered abuse or harassment, more than half had been diagnosed with depression, and 38% had thought about suicide. The deliberately covert targeting of individual at-risk children was implemented, according to The Australian, against the National Health and Medical Research Council’s ethical guidelines on research involving minors. This recommends that parental consent be obtained for such intrusive and intimate questioning of children, especially those who are psychologically extremely vulnerable. (By another reckoning, relevant research guides are so nebulous and elastic researchers could “drive a truck through them” if they so wish)
It has not been alleged that these operatives took advantage of their contact with vulnerable and sexually conflicted youngsters to encourage them to ‘come out’ prematurely as LGBTI folk, or to make drastic or irreversible life choices, such as gender re-assignment surgery, including, for example, genitoplasty, penectomy, vaginoplasty, phalloplasty, or other procedures promoted by LGBTI activists for young people.
Nor has it been alleged that the researchers engaged in the sexual grooming of these children or pursued subsequent personal contact or relationships with them. Doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals are, of course, prohibited from exploiting such situations where there is a massive power imbalance to pursue intimate personal relationships. However, it is not known whether these researchers are required to observe such constraints. The Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University, John Dewar, has claimed that the exercise was “subject to rigorous scrutiny by the university’s ethics committee”. However, it is not known whether this committee has the authority or capacity to regulate, surveil, or investigate the ongoing behaviour of operatives involved in this type of covert and intimate research.
Such investigations may however be the responsibility of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, either now or in the future. According to its charter, this Commission is required to investigate “how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.” It can “look at any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children. This includes where an organisation caring for a child is responsible for the abuse or for not responding appropriately, regardless of where or when the abuse took place”.
This certainly mandates an investigation into the ARCSHS and the Safe Schools campaign. The Commission’s inquiries have unearthed a mountain of proven and alleged criminal abuse carried out by sexual predators employed by government, religious, educational, and community organizations. In most cases even a small number of perpetrators can cause irreparable harm.
The ARCSHS and the Safe Schools program should not be considered to be any different to these bodies. They would seem no less likely to involve persons of predatory proclivities prepared to take advantage of their positions to wheedle their way into the lives of vulnerable young people, who they can then groom, exploit, and abuse. Nor can their administrators, auspicing bodies, or political mentors be considered any less culpable when such abuse occurs. Negligence is negligence, whether it occurs in a church, university, school, education department, or ministerial office.
In the short term, the ARCSHS and the Safe Schools campaign will be defended by the LGBTI lobby, progressivist elites, and various Labor and Liberal politicians who have staked their reputations on the legitimacy of the campaign, which, as the LGBTI flagship propaganda vehicle, relies heavily on the claims made in the From Blues to Rainbows report based on this research.
However, this protection may evaporate in the medium or longer term, when social values, public expectations, and the political situation have changed. Only a few decades ago, priests, youth workers, teachers, doctors, and others involved with children were assumed to be trustworthy, but that has changed drastically. Now they are being held to account, as are those who supervised them or otherwise facilitated their activities. Extremely prominent people, including a cardinal and a governor-general have been held to account, and this remorseless moral crusade will continue into the foreseeable future.
Would it not fair to extend this scrutiny to others also in positions where trust might be violated? To this end, the Royal Commission should continue a renewed round of advertisements soliciting the stories and testimonies of those who feel themselves to have been used.