Adding to the conversation on the herstorical abuse of children in NZ state care

Tēnā koutou katoa. My name is Paora Crawford Moyle. I spent 14 years in state care and I have 27 years of social work experience behind me. I speak out a lot on the gaps within New Zealand child protection, particularly in relation to mokopuna Maori over-representation.

This kōrero is for Ngā Wāhine Mōrehu and also for those who have passed on from this life with no acknowledgment for the abuse they endured. It is also for the many of our disabled whānau who are often left out of this conversation.

Recently we learned of Labour’s commitment to an ‘independent’ Inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care. So while we are talking about the kind of Inquiry we might have, I thought I would take the opportunity to put a key points.

Just as many girl children were abused in state care as boy children

When I read a headline Abused Males Want a Royal Commission and I see the media coverage on the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Conference recently held in Christchurch, I wonder if other wāhine survivors like myself feel like our specific experiences are marginalised? Thus, I wanted to make the absolute point that female survivors want a Royal Commision just as much as male survivors do. And “As many boys as girls were sexually abused. About 57% of the men we saw had been sexually abused and 57% of the women.” Findings from New Zealand’s Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS).

Apart from the recent Ngā Wāhine Mōrehu piece on the Hui, female state care survivors (or care leavers) are almost entirely excluded from the Inquiry conversation. It is vital that women as a survivor group with specific experiences are not left out of the setting up of an Inquiry. Why? If you know anything about children and abuse disclosure you will know that Māori and women are less likely to speak out about their abuse due to the intersectionality (what I refer to as the double whammy) of racism and misogyny/sexism. Yet we know that one in four New Zealand girls is sexually abused before the age of 15. An international survey found that New Zealand had highest rate of any country examined and the results showed, for the first time, that Māori girls suffer twice as much sexual abuse as non-Māori girls.

Female survivors of state care abuse have reported experiencing forced internal inspections for venereal diseases (VD) and forced contraception. I was forced to take contraception which there was no need for because I was not sexually active at the time and later I was only interested in girls. I also remember conversations about sterilizing two whangai disabled sisters based upon an assumption that menstruation would be traumatic for them. Although it was very behind closed doors, we know it happened. And just last year we again had forced sterilisation being tabled by Anne Tolley as a method of birth control.

As for forced internal inspections, Sonya Cooper who has been supporting survivors for more than 20 years stated, “Attached are a number of documents we were provided with by media, regarding the VD checks undertaken at the Girls’ Homes…Last month, for the first time, MSD accepted that a client was exposed to abuse by way of medical examinations performed by a doctor which were conducted in a manner which was outside the guidelines of the time. MSD stated that while it did not accept responsibility for the actions of the doctor, it accepted that the client was exposed to this abuse while in its care. Prior to this, MSD had failed to accept that such examinations were abuse, or failed to answer this allegation when presented with it.” (Personal communication from Cooper Legal, 16 November 2017). These practices were horrific and very traumatising for girls and young women. They have impacted generationally upon our whānau, from which we have not healed.

There are also specific issues from the past that directly correlate to what women, Māori women and whānau report they are currently experiencing in systems. In my PhD research, Māori women speak of their experience of sexism, structural racism and cultural ignorance/intolerance in statutory social work and in the Family Court. This is directly linked to the increased number of tamariki Māori (0 – 5s) being uplifted by the state and fast tracked to permanency outside of their whakapapa. If, we truly want systemic change we have to take a good hard look at everything and not just pati pati round the garden. Including ALL abuse types that children endured in state care.

All abuse of children in state care must be included into any Inquiry

It is vitally important that we have survivor groups out front informing the public (such as, the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Conference) about what historical state abuse is and who it impacts. We also need to be informing people about ALL abuse types being harmful to children and that they must be included into the Inquiry terms of reference.

Why would we consider excluding children like my 8 year bother who experienced electro-shock treatment in Cherry Farm, or those who were locked up 23 hours in solitary confinement? Or the perpetual emotional and cultural abuse we suffered, as evidenced in the 1978 ACORD Inquiry into the “cruel and inhumane treatment…violence and assaults of children and sexual violation of girls and young women.”

Cultural abuse where we were separated from our whānau, referred to as “inbreds” and “Pakeha girls were treated better than Māori girls who were seen as stereotypically bad, and troublemakers…put down and treated with contempt” and “they were stripping children of all their support systems and identifications and making them dependent on the internal system within the home…the institution makes the child obey in order to survive” (Mitchell, I. in ACORD 1978).

Abuse of children also happened in religious based care

I was made a state ward and placed by the state into religious based care. From the outside these places looked like any ordinary homely setting but within a week of going into care the abuse began. The vetting of caregivers was not a priority because the assumption was that they were ‘good’ Christian folk. As a consequence we were very vulnerable to predatory adults and we know that 60% of all victims of historic sexual abuse were abused while in religious based care.

There were also good Christian folk from the community who could access underprivileged children to go on outings, camps, overnight stays, leading to weekends and school holiday stays. They were Doctors, Judges, Lawyers, Police and other respected community leaders. Any Inquiry terms of reference need to include religious based care and not just in the bigger institutions we hear so much about; or it risks excluding more then half the victims.

Any Inquiry must be independent

An inquiry must be independent of the Ministry of Social Development or Ministry for Children. Otherwise it is NOT independent and risks repelling survivors akin to putting Judges robes on their rapist. It risks retraumatising victims and surviors.

An Inquiry MUST be able to compel witnesses and access un-redacted documents; must not have a cut-off date; must deal with compensation/restitution and structural change to our systems. It must include all institutions and children’s homes of any description (either run by churches, charities or the NZ state) and all forms of abuse not just sexual (a big mistake made by the Australian Royal Commission which excluded many thousands of survivors). Personally I think that only a Royal Commission of Inquiry like that of the will do because then it is able to hold Ministries/sytems to account for their multiple and continued failings.

Hei aha, if we have to have the Minister for Children leading it then like Māori Women’s Welfare League did last week, I urge her to consult widely and to give it time. Rushing through the terms of reference by mid Jan next year just leaved out the most important people and again protects the abuser. Consultation must include survivors, survivor groups and organisations with a history of involvement in or supporting those in state care. Ensure that provision is made for lived-experience to be at the change table. It must include a variety of lenses especially when considering previous reviews and recommendations such as Puao te ata tu.

Finally, I am just one voice, a wāhine toa survivor…Ngā Wāhine Mōrehu. I claim the right to be at the change table, to be valued as an ‘expert’ on this kaupapa by virtue of lived-experience. We are hero/shero’s who came to show you what you need to learn. I might be one voice but I speak powerfully on behalf of hundreds of who have been rendered silenced. WE ARE HERE, not to be further victimised and ‘saved’ but to be the living testimony and centralised, collective voice of change.

For those supportive of a Royal Commission of Inquiry here is a survey intended to help shape the Inquiry terms of reference. Or email your views to the Human Rights Commision – Subject Line: “Independent Inquiry into State Abuse”.

Paora Crawford Moyle

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