Today I spoke in support of the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2016 in the NSW Parliament.
The Bill was introduced to ensure that there is no limitation period for an action for damages that relates to death of personal injury resulting from child abuse.
I support the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2016, but as a non-lawyer I will talk about a different aspect to those mentioned so far in this debate. After my first degree I undertook postgraduate studies in applied psychology and counselling and not surprisingly, given the prevalence of abuse in our community, this issue was included in those studies. Indeed, I undertook significant research into child abuse. Later, as an officer of the Commonwealth Government who dealt with former child migrants, I saw the absolute devastation that institutionalised child abuse caused to people. Today I will talk about what makes these children grow up as damaged and devastated people; people who struggle to take enjoyment from things that many of us take for granted. No matter what they achieve in life, to some degree these people will always feel tainted by the criminal actions that another person took against them in childhood. That brings me to the core of this bill.
These victims will suffer life-long damage in all of their personal relationships and they will only overcome it with personal resilience and huge amounts of support. We need to recognise that by its very nature this type of crime stops people from reporting the crime committed against them. Child abuse is not just about the sexual or physical act; mostly importantly, it is about the control that someone in a senior or powerful position exerts upon a child. That person may be a parent, teacher, uncle or aunt, someone in a position of trust or a family friend. Control is at the heart of this issue. This bill will wrest that control, which can have a life-long influence on a victim, from the perpetrator and put it back into the hands of the victim.
What is the legacy of that control? I wanted to speak about and place on the record in this place young people's emotions, confusion, self-doubt, guilt and shame—the legacy of this kind of abuse. It is difficult for young people to articulate or even to understand this kind of behaviour. Someone in a position of power offers them attention, smiles when they speak, laughs when they make a silly joke, checks on every aspect involving them and makes them feel special. These are the things that we all want in our lives and it is behaviour that we want to see in our relationships from those that we trust. We want people whom we trust and who are role models and mentors to accept us and to give us that love and attention.
Because of the evil nature of this crime, those who give young people attention abuse their trust in a process that is known as grooming. Young people might instinctively know that the kind of attention that they are receiving is not the right kind of attention—it is not love, friendship or mentoring but rather abuse and exploitation, which are significantly different—and it is difficult for children to articulate or even to understand until they are much older. So the behaviour continues because they refuse to complain about the fact that Uncle Joe or Aunty Marg holds their hand a little too tightly, or that someone's hand reaches a bit too far up their leg, or that even though they were really naughty they did not deserve to be hit quite that hard by mummy or daddy, or even hit at all.
It is difficult to obtain evidence for crimes of this nature and they are difficult to prosecute. Children who have been exploited have limited resources to tell their stories to anyone else and they no longer have enough confidence or self-esteem to develop a trusting relationship. There is also the risk that the person to whom they tell their stories might also abuse them. Young people who are trapped by the bonds of family trust are exploited. We must do everything we can to ensure that they are not. In 1973 Stockholm syndrome, or capture bonding, was identified as a psychological phenomenon. Hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings for their captors, sometimes to the point where they defend and identify with them. In kidnapping cases it is easy to see such control and we know that hostages are under the bondage of their captors. The bonds of family, which are tightened around a victim of abuse, are not as obvious and are far stronger because young people live with the legacy of their captors all their lives. Family members do not jump on a plane and hold these young people as hostages or kidnap them, but they are tied to those family members for the rest of their lives. It is important to understand the significance of family bonds.
I have no truck with people who commit child sexual offences and we need to be strong in the way in which we deal with those who commit such crimes. I have spoken in this place before about the need to ensure that our homes and institutions are safe places, and that anyone in our community who has responsibility for or who cares for a vulnerable member of our community is held to account. They must be monitored to ensure that they observe proper standards of conduct. When we place limitations on the time allowed for the reporting of child sexual abuse cases there is no risk to perpetrators. They know that if they control a young person for long enough they will eventually be free, but unfortunately that is not the case for those whom they have abused.
There are real emotional impacts in cases of child sexual abuse. Research is being undertaken on the biochemical changes that result from severe psychological trauma—things such as post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] where magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] of the brain of someone who has undergone PTSD is looked at—and it is believed that biochemical changes can be seen. It would be naive to think that this has not happened to the many young people in our community who have been subjected to abuse. We need to reopen this discussion in the community and talk about the guilt and the recurring memories that are triggered when many of those who were abused as children have children of their own who have reached the same critical and vulnerable age that they were when they were abused.
Imagine adult survivors of child abuse having children of their own at the same critical age as they were when they were first abused. How would they deal with that? We know about the cycles of abuse and that victims of child sexual abuse do not know how to interact with their own children. It is a critical time in the lives of those who have been abused when they are once again faced with the impact of this heinous crime. I urge all members to support this bill and to lend support to all those in our community who have suffered child sexual abuse.