How sad is it when this is what prison inmates say about their time in a reform school:
Boys from Victorian orphanages who later ended in up prison said that was not nearly as bad as the boys’ homes, the state inquiry into how the churches handled sex abuse heard on Monday.
It was another litany of horror at the inquiry as the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) gave evidence of repeated and systematic rapes over years, physical and psychological abuse amounting to torture, and a callous indifference by police and authorities, whether church or state.
Leonie Sheedy, chief executive of CLAN – which represents people raised in homes run by the state, churches and charities – told the inquiry that in a sample she took of 18 years 1352 children absconded from religious and non-government homes and 1877 fled state institutions.
“A great number were running away from child rape, and sexual and other criminal assaults. What did the police do? They simply returned them to their abusers. They did not ask why the children were running away or inquire into their well-being,” Ms Sheedy said.
“The boys who ran away from homes and ended up in prison have told me over and over again that prison was much better than the boys’ homes.”
That speaks volumes given how violent prisons typically are. To think that children were subjected to this makes it even worse.
The accounts from the article are horrific. One girl was called “a dirty, filthy, dishonest child” when she reported her abuse. Another girl was beaten by the nun she told about her abuse and made to go to the abuser’s home anyway. One boy was tricked by one Brother into being abused by another. They paid the boy $10 and told him to come back again. Yet another boy reported his abuse to a detective who then slapped him and punched him before telling the boy not to tell “such cock-and-bull stories.”
As the article explains, the groups responsible for the children often deny and deflect the accusations, with some refusing to cooperate with investigations. Granted, they have an obvious reason for doing that. Most of these places are well aware of the abuse that occurs. If they keep records of the accusations, like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America did, they do not want anyone seeing those. Even if they kept no concrete records, it takes little effort to corroborate survivors’ stories. Plenty of their fellow survivors can do that, and many of those who abused kids in the homes and school also abused kids outside of that environment. The last thing any of these groups want is someone revealing just how depraved the institutions were.
Nothing can undo the pain already caused, but there is plenty we can do to prevent this from happening again. One of those things is tearing down the bureaucracy. Far too many of these institutions police themselves, so few outside authorities know what happens. Another is to start arresting and prosecuting the people in charge. Every time this happens, most of the people who could–and should–have done something to stop the abuse walk. They may resign from their jobs, but they rarely face any real consequences.
And finally, we have to keep talking about these problems. When these events reach the light of day, we talk about them for a few weeks and then move on. We need to stop doing that. The abuse does not stop just because we revealed one instance of systematic abuse. The abuse still goes on in other places around the world, and it is only by talking about it, raising awareness, and letting survivors know that we care and will do something about it that we can stop the abuse.
We need to do that because no one should ever think being in prison is than their childhood was.