Professor Chris Goddard has kindly agreed that this timeless transcipt can be featured on journeystowords.com.au The messages about listening to children and taking their truth to heart, is there for all. And no, that’s not the Professor in the photo. It’s the amazing James Nation and Jen Hutchison, shouting ‘Yes’ to the universe at last year’s ‘Intuition and Freedom’, a retreat that teaches you about empowering yourself through anything, just anything.
FACULTY OF MEDICINE, NURSING AND HEALTH SCIENCES
Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration FAMILY VIOLENCE CONFERENCE
The Silencing Of Children: The Truth is Longer than a Lie
PROFESSOR CHRIS GODDARD
This is a spoken version only. References available on request firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today.
I have been asked to share with you some of my reflections on the problem of child abuse and neglect. In particular, I want to examine the place of the child in child abuse. It is my view that the child himself or herself has largely been “missing” from adult discussions about child abuse. I propose that children have been – and continue to be – silenced. Before starting, I must give a word of warning. Our research in this area is still progressing – therefore our understanding of child abuse is still partial, still incomplete. So while I intend to give you the truth – and nothing but the truth – it is still probably not the whole truth.
So, the partial truth on the silencing of children I will reflect upon includes:
The invisible child;
The discovery of child abuse;
Child abuse deaths;
Repeated abuse and the role of the courts;
Other forces used to silence children;
What children have to say when they are allowed to speak.
The Invisible Child
It is said that the history of childhood resists easy generalisations. Never one to resist a challenge, I will start off by attempting one or two generalisations of my own.
The reader of history with an interest in children and childhood is likely to gain two significant impressions: firstly, that children do not feature very prominently in historical texts; and, secondly, it is clear that children have a very long history of suffering at the hands of adults (Goddard, 1996). One explanation for the absence of children from these historical accounts is proposed by the French historian Phillipe Arie?s (1962) who suggests that children rarely appear in historical sources because childhood was not viewed as a separate stage of human development. Childhood has been described as a “recent invention? (Goddard, 1996, p.7). Jenks, the UK sociologist (1996, p.62), has suggested that “children were invisible?.
Evidence of the so-called “invisibility” of children is not hard to discover. Manning Clark’s ‘A Short History of Australia’, for example, makes little direct reference to children: Children are present to be sure, but largely in the form of histories of institutions and services, and not in their own right. (Goddard, 1996, p.8)
Although children themselves may have been “invisible”, what is now known as child abuse has always existed. It is easy to find a catalogue of horrors against children throughout history: child labour, exposure, infanticide and child sexual abuse amongst others. Child abuse in the church is said to have occurred for 1000 years.
It is my contention today that these abusive acts against children have continued, in part at least, because children were not only „invisible? but also because they were rendered inaudible. Children were silenced.
Even the Screams are Silenced: The Modern ‘Discovery’ of Child Abuse
One of the ways that children became more visible was through the “discovery” of child abuse. It is now generally accepted that the work of Dr. Henry Kempe and his colleagues nearly 50 years ago created modern interest in child abuse. Others including social workers had visited the subject before but it was Kempe?s article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that has been granted the position of the seminal work in this area. Entitled „The battered-child syndrome?, the work caused widespread interest in the problem, not only in the USA, but also in the UK and Australia (Goddard & Carew, 1993).
Kempe?s paper reported on a nationwide survey of hospitals and district attorneys in the US which was designed to establish the incidence of the problem.
Kempe?s work was followed by similar research elsewhere. The first such article in the Australian literature (Storey, 1964), however, had to draw on cases from the UK and US. Storey stated that this was because „no cases have been reported in the Australian literature? (1964, p.789).
The professional literature, it is true, may have been silent, but reference was made in the media to what is now known as child abuse far earlier. In his history of child health and welfare in Australia, Tears often shed, Bryan Gandevia (1978, p.104) notes that „infanticide? was a major concern 100 years before Storey?s paper. In 1863, in Melbourne, in “about 25% of inquests on children under 3 years of age death could be attributed to causes denoting neglect, ignorance or maltreatment” (1978, p.104). Gandevia states that this pattern of abuse persisted.
It is interesting to note that such cases were often reported in the media. The newspapers were interested but professions like medicine apparently were not.
These are some of the headlines picked at random from 1871 and 1872 in Melbourne?s newspaper The Argus:
Body of infant found at Bendigo, Nurse murders her child, Mary Thomas murders son, Child found in cesspit, Mother and father murder infant son, Mother drowns her infant child,
Body of newborn boy found in Yarra River
These were headlines almost 100 years almost before the medical article that drew attention to child abuse.
The problem of child abuse can be said to have been “discovered” by the professions in Australia in 1966 when the Medical Journal of Australia published an Editorial and two articles, one by Dr Dora Bialestock and one by the brothers Birrell. It was these papers that really brought child abuse to public attention in Australia.
The late Dr John Birrell was Victorian police surgeon and Dr Bob Birrell, a paediatrician. John Birrell, or Doc Birrell as he was known, became a mentor of mine when I was working at the Royal Children?s Hospital.
Birrell and Birrell described eight cases of child abuse that came to police attention in Melbourne. Two deaths occurred and the authors suggested that these deaths were caused by “the blind application of the ‘philosophy’ that even a bad home is better than no home or the best possible institution? (Birrell & Birrell, 1966, p.1137). A philosophy that, some would claim, still holds sway today.
It is interesting to reflect upon this early ground-breaking research from the perspective of the child. At first glance, the children may be said to be central to this research and in one sense they are. The papers describe horrendous abuse in graphic detail.
Kempe?s 1962 U.S. paper is concerned with the „battered-child syndrome? as a „clinical condition?; it seeks to describe the „clinical manifestations? (1962, p.17). His paper is illustrated with x-rays because, as the researchers state: „To the informed physician, the bones tell a story the child is too young or frightened to tell? (Kempe et al., 1962, p.18). This is a key sentence in Kempe?s article – „…the child is too young or frightened to tell?.
It is too easy to assume, however, that the children were too young to tell of their experiences. Birrell and Birrell describe each of their cases in some detail.
But the children did speak or try to. It is Case 5 in this paper that I find particularly poignant. There are two photographs of this three-year-old girl in the article. One shows her from the waist up, head tilted to one side, showing „bruising of body, arms and face, with lacerations.? (Birrell & Birrell, 1966, p.1136).
The photographs, terrible though they are, do not adequately describe the full horror of this young girl?s life; listen to the description:
“The father had separated from the mother when the child was aged 10 months, and had come to live in a country town, boarding with a woman with five children who looked after his child. The woman observed the child being strapped several times with his belt, and noticed when bathing the child that there were red marks on the back and shoulders and that the child had a painful left arm. The woman took her to hospital, where x-ray films showed no abnormalities…The child was in hospital for 10 days, where she screamed and ran from the father whenever he visited.”
Sadly, even the screams of this young child were in vain. She was returned home. She had been rendered inaudible; she had been silenced:
“The child was nevertheless returned to the father, well and without a mark, but in fear of him. She would not speak to him. Because of this, at 5 o?clock every night after work he thrashed her with his belt after undressing her.“ (Birrell & Birrell, 1966, p.1135)
Case 5, as she was called, as far as we know, survived.
History, some have claimed, repeats itself. It will be no surprise to learn that the Victorian Government of the time treated the research by Bialestock and the brothers Birrell as mere allegations, and attempted to discredit the published papers. The children were silenced.
Some children are even less fortunate than Case 5. Some children die of abuse. After all, the age group at greatest risk of homicide in Australia is the 0-12 months group.
In Australia, one of the child abuse deaths that had the greatest effect was the murder of two-year-old Daniel Valerio in 1990. The murder trial, and the subsequent coronial inquest, attracted media attention throughout Australia. The headlines both reflected and stirred public outrage at Daniel?s brutal death and at the apparent inability of no less than 20 professionals to prevent it (Goddard, 1996).
In summary, over a period of some three months, many people saw serious injuries to Daniel and his brother. There were reports to the police and protective services. He was admitted to hospital where he thrived – and was investigated for a rare bleeding disorder. Not for the common problem of child abuse but for a rare bleeding disorder. In the days leading up to his death, after his release from hospital, Daniel was seen almost every day by GPs. So much information, so little action.
There is one particular incident in Daniel?s life that stood out for me.
A week before Daniel was finally killed, the police were visiting the house where Daniel?s mother, Cheryl Butcher, and Daniel?s four-year-old brother were present. The police saw bruising on the four-year-old boy?s face and limbs. The boy said that the bruising was caused by a fall, by being hit with a stick on his legs by Paul Aiton (mother?s de facto), and by being smacked by his mother. The boy went and got the tree branch that he said Aiton had used to hit him.
Daniel?s brother had reported a crime. He had been beaten with a stick. He took the police to retrieve the weapon, a tree branch. He identified the assailant. He even pointed out the injuries that resulted. This scene took place in the home. If this crime had occurred elsewhere, and the child had been assaulted by a stranger, the responses of the system would have been completely different (Goddard, 1996). As it was, the report of abuse by a child in his own home was apparently inaudible, and certainly ineffectual. The police confiscated the stick and left.
Eight days later, Daniel Valerio was finally beaten to death by Paul Aiton.
The post-mortem revealed 104 bruises all over Daniel?s body. Severe internal injuries were found, akin to the crushing trauma in road accident victims. In addition, there were healing fractures of both collarbones.
As has been observed elsewhere, similar mistakes and omissions have been found in many inquiries into child abuse deaths around the world: poor management; staff shortages; the failure to follow procedures; inadequate recording; role confusion; and, the failure to communicate (Goddard, 1996). All were present in Daniel Valerio?s death.
Such findings are true, but not the whole truth. There are perhaps deeper truths.
We must also consider the position children hold in our society. For child abuse to be appropriately responded to, children have to be regarded as „more than objects?: children have to be „viewed as individuals who have rights of their own and needs for special protection? (Goddard, 1993, p.11).
More cases where children?s lives are treated carelessly, where obvious warning signs are ignored, continue to come to light. In Austria, a 73-year-old man, Josef Fritzl, has confessed to keeping his daughter in a dungeon for nearly 25 years. She was repeatedly raped by her father and bore him seven children. One of the babies died, and was burned in the incinerator.
Fritzl explained his daughter?s disappearance by claiming that she had runaway to join a satanic cult. Three of the six children were kept in the cellar with their mother. Three others lived upstairs, apparently leading unremarkable lives. Fritzl explained the fact that he was acquiring new babies by claiming that his daughter re-appeared periodically to leave babies on his doorstep.
Fritzl, a convicted rapist, was believed. Fritzl, a convicted rapist, was assessed and allowed to foster and adopt these three children who mysteriously appeared on his doorstep.
Then there is the more recent US case. In 1991, Jaycee Lee Dugard, aged 11 years, went missing on her way to school. She was abducted, it is alleged, by Philip Garrido who was on parole, released from his prison sentence for sexual assault. Over the years, it is reported, neighbours were concerned that children were living in tents in the backyard but no action was taken. Apparently, no one checked. And they call her a “sex slave”…
I will return to language.
‘It’s always – always going to be in my head’: A Case of Repeated Abuse
I will now turn to a third example of the silencing of children: “A case of repeated abuse?. My first writing about this case appeared in The Age newspaper. My opinion piece carried the following sub-heading: “Warning: readers may be offended by parts of this article. It includes court proceedings relating to rape.? So, you too have been warned. This is a very unpleasant story.
Child abuse is not only committed by adults, it is defined by them too. The responses of adults, as we have seen, can make things better or worse for the child who has been abused (Goddard, 2000). Children who have been badly hurt can get badly hurt again and again as adults respond or fail to. Adults can make it extremely difficult and painful for children to tell of their abuse.
This is but a small part of the story of a young woman known as AB, aged 17 years, who appeared in the Supreme Court in Victoria in 2000. She was awarded A$490 000 in damages. The Court found that the primary school AB attended should have acted upon the repeated warning signs that she was being sexually abused. In short, the school failed in its duty of care to a girl in Grade Three.
Few children can have been treated as badly as AB. Her story is almost too painful to tell. For anything resembling justice to be done, AB had to tell her story over and over and over again. She had told her mother, her father and the police. She had been cross-examined in a committal hearing. She had been further cross-examined in the trial of her stepfather, who was found guilty of repeatedly raping her (he spent only three years in jail for his awful crimes). Then, in the Victorian Supreme Court, AB suffered what one prays will be the final assault. She was cross-examined by her stepfather, the man who raped her. He chose to represent himself and was allowed to further traumatise his victim, this time in front of a jury.
AB was allowed some protection – some of her evidence-in-chief was given through an affidavit, and she was cross-examined by the rapist through audio-visual link from a remote witness room in a nearby building – but both shields provided totally inadequate protection. Remember, this is occurring this century.
By the time her stepfather started his cross-examination, AB had already been taken by the lawyers through “incidents? of rape, of beatings that were worse when her mother wasn’t there, of disregarded intervention orders. She told how she had lost contact with her grandmother and her half-sister. She had even lost contact with her mother; the day her stepfather was sentenced was the last time her mother spoke to her. In the court, AB was asked by Jeremy Ruskin, QC, senior counsel for the state, if she would feel better once this case was over. She replied: “It’s always – always going to be in my head, it’s always – it’s never going to go away and this court case is relating to the actual abuse, so the court case is always going to be there as well.?
Then her stepfather was allowed to begin his brutal cross- examination. Remember, this is occurring in the Supreme Court of Victoria just a few years ago. His first question was: “…your evidence … refers to pain in your vagina, right??
“In your first statement, you said it was up and down for a long time, right, you remember that??
“…do you recall saying that I inserted my penis into your vagina, do you remember that … no??
“Yes, I do.?
And so it goes on, page after page. A convicted rapist, seven or eight years later, is cross-examining his victim, who was nine or 10 at the time of the rapes. There are questions about whether there was blood, about who checked the sheets.
It is hard to understand how any of this was ever necessary, how it might be relevant when this man has already been convicted of repeatedly raping his step daughter.He attempts to suggest there are contradictions in her statements. He persists: “If you look at one statement, and look at the other statement, one statement is very blunt, right, is very plain, but the other statement is more graphic…??
Finally, exasperated, the young woman threatens to knock the rapist?s head off. The judge, Bill Gillard, interjects. To AB he says: “…just, please, listen to the question?, and to the stepfather: “…You cross- examine as you see fit.?
The stepfather says he is lost. The judge then advises this rapist on how to cross-examine his victim: “If you seek to show there is a difference between the two statements, you first of all refer to the first statement, draw (her) attention to the parts you’re dealing with, ask her to read that and then ask her to read the similar paragraph in the second statement involving the same incident, if you wish to highlight there is a difference.?
AB complains: “Every question you ask …it takes you 10… minutes to ask it, obviously you don?t know what you are talking about… .?
At one point, counsel for the victim, intercedes: “I think the jury are a little bit distressed.? Later, Justice Gillard says to AB: “…I do ask you to listen to the question and answer it, and stay calm. I think we all appreciate the ordeal, but I can assure you the whole procedure will go a lot quicker if you just listen to the question and answer it to the best of your ability.?
The words “Witness distressed? appear repeatedly in the Supreme Court transcript. It goes on. Justice Gillard: `All right, now come on … please.’ (Witness distressed).
And later, „”ustice Gillard: ‘Look, this is getting a bit out of hand…” (Witness distressed). AB: “Well you guys are the ones that wanted him to cross-examine me, not me – not me…?
AB’s case was a shocking example of how cruelly children and young people can be treated. AB’s was a civil case, not a criminal trial involving life and liberty. Her stepfather had already been convicted of repeatedly raping her when she was a child. Even at the time of this awful cross- examination, AB was barely more than a child.
In researching AB?s case, I obtained the full transcript of the proceedings from the Supreme Court transcription service. The full horror of the case had also had its effects on those whose job it was to word-process the full proceedings. The woman who handed me the transcript had tears in her eyes, and told me that those word-processing the case had been reduced to tears.
If typing this transcript caused secondary traumatisation to the typists, imagine what this did to AB.
I am repeatedly re-assured that the laws have changed, that this will never happen again. We will see.
Take the more recent case in Victoria – in 2007 – of Peter Rallis. Peter Rallis shook his six-week-old daughter so violently on more than one occasion that she was left brain-damaged. In the words of the judge, she is now “unable to do anything for herself”. “She needs assistance in selecting a position, is upset by loud noise and requires reassurance”, the judge said. “She needs to be fed, bathed, dressed and have administered to her medication for seizures”, Judge Hogan went on to say. “Alexia has cerebral palsy, spasticity, vision impairment, seizures and quadriparesis (or weakness in all limbs). In short, though some improvement is possible, Alexia received a life sentence.”
The father?s sentence? Three years goal.
But wait. You are probably thinking that three years is not a long sentence for such shocking assaults. That was just the beginning. His three year sentence was suspended for three years. So he walked from the court, something his daughter will probably never be able to do. I hope at least some of you are asking why.
The key to the judge?s decision lies on page 18 of her – yes her – reasons for sentence:
“As a very vulnerable, profoundly disabled member of society, she is entitled to optimal care. Ironically, although you are the person who caused her to be so needy, I am of the view that you are the best person to continue to address her needs.”
Imagine, if you can, that Peter Rallis had assaulted his wife so severely that she was intellectually and visually severely impaired, barely able to move. Imagine, if you can, that he was then placed in charge of her total care. Imagine, if you can, that this decision was made on the grounds that he was the best person to care for his wife.It does not require much imagination at all to forecast the resultant outcry if the victim had been his wife rather than his daughter. And what I am asking you to imagine is not a mere intellectual exercise. When we looked more closely at Peter Rallis we discovered that he too was a serial offender. And guess what his previous involved? Yes, so- called “domestic” violence. The first involved Rallis being charged with “being unlawfully on premises, causing wilful damage and assaulting a police officer”. This was what police call a “domestic” after he was locked out by his then girlfriend.The second involved Rallis “forcibly removing” his girlfriend from the house and kicking her so hard that it caused “bruising”.
No problems for baby Alexia there then. Oh yes – I forgot. Alexia?s two-year-old sister was present during these almost fatal assaults. The sister is described in the judge?s summing up as “freaking out” at what was going on as her father assaulted her sister.
These stories are so extraordinary that they are almost unbelievable. Peter Rallis beats women, almost kills his daughter in front of his other daughter, who at the age of two is screaming because she knows what she is witnessing is terrible even if incomprehensible, and his grossly disabled daughter is entrusted to his care.
As the judge said “You are said to be the only one who can bathe her without her crying.”
In the brief time available to me, I have had to be very selective in the examples I have chosen to illustrate the silencing of children. Even language is used to silence children and minimise abuse. I discovered this when I attended the inquest into the death of Daniel Valerio, and wrote about it for The Age. Daniel had learned, at the age of two, only a few words. One of the words was “hurt”: such a short, sharp word from such a small boy about his terrible injuries. The doctors and lawyers in Court were less precise in their use of language. Daniel was repeatedly called “it”, as in “its parents” rather that “his parents”.
One of our first discoveries in our language analysis was that the child who has been abused may become “it?. In some circumstances, the gender of a child who has been abused is identified and then dropped as the story unfolds. This “gender slippage? or “gender neglect? is confined to stories where children are abused or neglected (Goddard & Saunders, 2000, pp.40-43).
Headline: Baby?s parents on trial
Roslee … spent two weeks in intensive care recovering from 21 broken bones … bruising inside her eyes and bleeding inside her chest. Doctors told the ACT Supreme Court, the injuries could have been caused by the baby being shaken or having its limbs twisted. …(Herald Sun, 1999, emphases added).
Headline: The Bus Stop Baby
Found by a farmer on July 24 last year in a green shopping bag at a bus stop at Grahamvale, on the outskirts of Shepparton. The baby boy, about one or two days old, was dressed in a pale blue “Little Wishes” jumpsuit and yellow Target singlet, and wrapped in a blanket. Not clear if baby was dead or alive when abandoned in wintry conditions.
The torn umbilical cord was still attached, suggesting it was not delivered at a hospital. Autopsy results inconclusive. (Herald Sun, May 4, 2009).
No other examples of this loss of gender were found in other stories. We suggest that this “gender slippage? or gender loss may be “an emotional perhaps unconscious, response? to the unpleasant nature of child abuse (2000, p.43). An indirect way of silencing children.
The seriousness of child sexual abuse is also reduced by the language used. Child sexual abuse may be redefined as “a less serious, almost consensual relationship between adults? (2000, p44): “A man was jailed for seven years yesterday after an affair with his step-daughter which began when she was 10 and led to her becoming pregnant and giving birth at the age of 11.”The man first attempted having sex with the girl during a trip to the seaside in 1995 when he gave her half a pint of beer … A relationship developed until they were having sex every week. In January this year, the girl was found to be six months pregnant. The man?s wife suspected the truth when she looked out of an upstairs window and saw them kissing. When confronted they both denied the relationship. Later a neighbour saw them kissing at a bus stop and the police intervened. The social services were called and again the couple denied having sexual intercourse. The man was arrested after the girl was found to be pregnant. She decided to keep the child and is bringing it up at home … (Sheffield E 1997 “Man jailed for sex with girl, 10?, The Guardian, 20 June.)
This is what we have called the “textual abuse? of children. Words like “affair”, “relationship”, “couple” are used to re-write the statutory rape of a young girl.
Our language analysis has been extended in work with Lillian De Bortoli to examining so-called “child prostitution?, where those who commit sexual offences against children are redefined as “customers? and “clients?. Again, the offence of statutory rape is transformed through language, this time into a commercial transaction or a form of employment (Goddard, De Bortoli, Saunders & Tucci, 2005). Our language minimises the abuse of children in many ways. We use the word “paedophile” for child rapists and child molesters. Imagine “gynophile” for the rapist of women. When we reflect upon language it becomes easier to understand the extraordinary assumptions that were (and still are?) made about child sexual abuse. This is what I was taught about child sexual abuse at University:
that children didn?t tell the truth about sexual abuse, that children lied;
that some children were sexually provocative, seductive even;that many children fantasized;
that mothers often aided and abetted the abuse;
that child sexual abuse was extremely rare in any case and did not cause harm anyway;
that it was intervention that caused the problem;
that strangers were the real danger; and,
it was all acceptable in some societies anyway
Our research – and the research of others – has shown that in fact children rarely lie about abuse, that they will in fact prefer to cover up abuse by their parents, that mothers are sometimes beaten to allow abuse to continue, and that children are not listened to when they try to disclose abuse.
Our research has repeatedly shown that children have very important things to say.
What children have to say when they are allowed to speak:
One of the aspects of the work of our Research Centre that I am most proud of is the research that involves talking to children about their experiences. Research by Neerosh Mudaly, Bernadette Saunders and Joe Tucci is leading the way in this. In one research project, Neerosh Mudaly interviewed children and young people who have been abused and subject to protective service intervention. The messages that the children and young people gave are very important.
They told of:
Their sense of powerlessness;
Their difficulty in understanding what was happening;
How they tended to cover up for adults; and
The difficulties they had in being believed.
On trying to tell (12-year-old girl):
One of the most powerful quotes from the children came from a 12-year- old girl who believed that some counsellors are not helpful, and some counsellors find the truth too hard to deal with (Mudaly and Goddard, 2006).
These are her words:
“The problem with the counsellor …. was that she didn?t want to believe the truth and that?s always the problem with these people, they don?t want to believe the truth, they just want to believe the easiest side, ……. the side that is the simplest, basically … so then they get paid and go on to the next one and just pick the simplest out of that. They don?t want to hear the truth because the truth is so much harder to understand and so much longer than a lie about the truth.”
These are words I will never forget. “The truth is …. so much longer than a lie.” These are the words that have become the title of our book.
I hope that I have demonstrated that the truth about child abuse and child protection may be is more complex than we imagine. The truth about child abuse is indeed “longer than a lie” just as the 12-year-old girl so perceptively said. There are many forces operating to silence children. Children, all children, deserve that the truth about child abuse be told. For that truth to be discovered, children need to be listened to and heard. Thank you.