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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

Reporting the abuse

21. Many witnesses stated that the culture and environment in which they were living meant that they felt they could not report their experiences for fear of being disbelieved or beaten, and some child migrants were threatened to this effect by their abusers. CM-A4 stated, “I could not trust adults and just bottled everything up”. CM-A13 said that he knew no one would believe that he had been sexually assaulted: “It seemed like they were all the same, all in it together”, and Edward Scott stated that the institution “wasn’t a place where I felt safe or trusted”.[1] 

22. Several of the Part 1 witnesses told us that their reports of abuse were not treated seriously and no further investigation was carried out by the relevant institution: Marcelle O’Brien testified that her complaint had been ignored, rendering her reluctant to report abuse subsequently. CM-A5 said that she was told to pray for her abuser, with no further steps taken by the institution. CM-A6 said he was told to keep this to ourselves and don’t tell anyone else” when he reported that he had been raped.[2]

23. Several of the witnesses testified that they had been treated aggressively – sometimes violently – after they had reported abuse, and that they interpreted this treatment as an attempt to silence them. For example, CM-A6 and Peter Bagshaw[3] described being beaten when they reported abuse prior to their migration and CM-A20 said that when he complained about his abuse to the new principal at the Christian Brothers school at Tardun (CM-F76), he was beaten, told he was a “filthy liar and that he was being moved to Castledare the next day.[4] Furthermore, three witnesses reported that they believed that staff responsible for sexual abuse were moved to other institutions to cover up their transgressions.[5]

24. Several witnesses told the Inquiry that they had no personal recollection of any institutional inspection.[6] Those who spoke about formal inspections by child welfare professionals, the local (Australian) Fairbridge Council or the Lotteries Commission, generally did so in dismissive terms: CM-A5 said that the children had been told to remain silent and to give the impression to inspectors that they were happy, and Oliver Cosgrove stated that all they said was “the obligatory ‘Good morning, sir’”.[7] Geographical separation from their families, of course, made it harder for the children to report abuse to them, and we heard accounts that the content of letters that some wrote home was strictly controlled and that letters were censored.[8] The limited contact that many of the children had with the outside world, and the geographical isolation of some of the schools, would have limited even further the ability of the children to report abuse.

For all these reasons, the true incidence of sexual abuse of child migrants was likely to be significantly under-reported during the migration period. We agree with Dr Humphreys that those intent on perpetrating sexual abuse would likely know that children would find it difficult to report the abuse,[9] and thus that they would be unlikely to be caught. This must have made the children feel utterly powerless and bereft and was a deplorable situation.

References

Footnotes

  1. CM-A4 1 March 2017 16; CM-A13 7 March 2017 121; Scott 2 March 2017 76.
  2. O’Brien 28 February 2017 23-24; CM-A5 3 March 2017 40-44; CM-A6 1 March 2017 73-4.
  3. CM-A6 1 March 2017 64; Bagshaw 28 February 2017 86.
  4. CM-A20 2 March 2017 39. We note that the Australian Senate Community Affairs Committee’s Lost Innocents report (2001) found that boys who reported abuse had been beaten by the Brothers, and there were “cover ups” of the abuse due to strong connections between the Brothers and the police: Constantine 10 March 2017 129-132.
  5. CM-A4 1 March 2017 21; Cosgrove 1 March 2017 21; 103; Delaney 7 March 2017 113.
  6. CM-A14 28 February 2017 120; CM-A4 1 March 2017 49-50; CM-A6 1 March 2017 75; Cosgrove 1 March 2017 91; 100- 105; 134-135; Scott 2 March 2017 83; Hill 8 March 2017 80.
  7. CM-A5 3 March 2017 80-81; Cosgrove 1 March 2017 135. See also Hill 20 July 2017 110-112 and Lynch 10 March 2017 161
  8. See, for example, CM-A22 2 March 2017 80.
  9. Humphreys 9 March 2017 16.
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