Unfortunately, abuse perpetrated against children and vulnerable adults it all too common. Abuse perpetrated by individuals and organisations, by people in positions of authority and trust, by family members and those who have been entrusted to provide care and support.
Abuse is endemic, occurring across sectors and organisations. At times it is systemic perpetrated as part of a policy meant to do good, at times by individuals or groups. Whatever the reason there is no excuse.
The most confronting factor is the failure of the system, the failure of good people working alongside of those perpetrating abuse to recognise and acknowledge what is happening and to speak up. Sometimes people do not want to know, they may not believe the victim, they may not believe it is their responsibility to do anything, they believe the perpetrator will change, they want to protect the service. Irrespective of the reason, their silence compounds the effect of the abuse on individuals and allows it to continue, effecting more and more innocent people.
There has been a myriad of reports over recent years, nationally and internationally, drawing our attention to ongoing system failure to prevent widespread abuse:
- Bringing them home: Report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. Sydney: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997
- Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children, Community Affairs References Committee, 2004
- Protecting vulnerable children: A national challenge, Commonwealth of Australia, 2005
- Mullighan Inquiry – Commission of Inquiry Report (Children in State Care), South Australia. Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry, 2005-2008
- Lost Innocents: Righting the Record – Report on child migration, Commonwealth of Australia 2001
- Final Report, Royal Commission into institutional responses to child abuse, 2017
- Report – The prevalence of acquired brain injury among victims and perpetrators of family violence, Brain Injury Australia, 2018
The reports provide an indication of the extent of abuse and the ongoing impact that his has on survivors and their families. The reports have also highlighted the importance of acknowledgement and apology in the healing journey for survivors and their families and communities. The reports have also indicated that people did know, but said nothing.
People need to have their story told and they need to be listened to. To be ignored, to be hidden away exacerbates the abuse. Without acknowledgement, the pain and suffering cannot heal. Anxiety and depression is widespread – of the one in six women in Australia experiencing physical or sexual abuse by a current or former partner, 67% acquire a mental illness such as anxiety or depression. Nine out of ten women with an intellectual disability experience sexual or physical violence during their lives. The recent report on ‘Family Violence and Brain Injury’ (2018) highlights the high number of survivors who acquire physical, sensory or cognitive impairments as a result of the violence experienced.
The stories of participants will reveal how abuse impacts individuals, families, and community in the days, weeks, months, years, decades later. The accompanying photographs bring the individuals to life. They make the stories personal. They provide the emotional link between the story teller and the viewer. Engaging the viewer in this way places them in the shoes of the person telling the story. It creates empathy, it creates reflection, it builds a foundation for change.
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