Child sexual abuse: looking beyond the institutions

Child sexual abuse: looking beyond the institutions

Anne Lastman

Anne Lastman, BA (Psy/Rel Stds), Dip Ed, M Rel Ed, MA (Theol Stds) is a Member of the Australian Counsellors' Association (Level 3), of the Federation of Victoria Counsellors and of the ACA College of Loss & Grief (Level 3). She is the founder of Victims of Abortion Trauma Counselling and Info Services (PO Box 6094, Vermont South, 3133).

A revised second edition of her book Redeeming Grief has just been published (see page 16).

There is a sense of shame which hovers over the Catholic Church at this moment. It's a church limping towards Calvary, being spat upon, being vilified, despised. It's the one church which is the focal point of child sexual abuse allegations by its ministers and others within its ranks. And yet I would suggest that there is more to what we are seeing. We are seeing the crucifixion of the Bride of Christ just like the crucifixion of her Groom. There is much pain, shame, guilt in this time, and enduring this can unhinge. Loss of faith is possible.

Defined, sexual abuse is the forceful intrusion or violation into the sacred space of sexuality in the life of a person, but in this instance, a child, in the context of one in whose trusting care the child or children were situated.

This is a very clinical explanation for sexual abuse, but behind these words there is an immensity of pain and distortion. However, there is still much more to the experience and more and more the voices of those who have lived with the experience report dimensions which had hitherto been unacknowledged.


For these voices, sexual abuse has meant the brutalising indignity and dishonour of innocence. There is a suffering within these voices which has a dimension which is indescribable. Indeed, it almost appears chameleon like because as soon as someone nears what appears to be a description, a new dimension of this suffering is discovered and the essence of this suffering becomes again elusive.

By its very nature sexual abuse is a violent and soul-destroying act whose evil can only be equated with past crimes of human sacrifice and genocide. The violence inherent in the act of this type abuse is also manifested in the physical, living realm of society, because the victim carries into life, family and then society, the reactions to this abuse.

During the act of sexual abuse, the child's innocence dies and in its stead is imprinted a dread of God, authority, parents, siblings, family, loss of trust, loss of normal developmental mandate and a distortion of what should have been sequential growth, and in its stead a skewed view of what life means.

Sexual abuse is not something which happens while the child is unconscious and unaware but the abuse is carried out while the child is consciously present and has to bear the whole psychological, emotional and spiritual violence while fully conscious. This makes the abuse horrendous because it leads to the setting up of psychological strategies for survival which then distort true development for happiness and life-fulfilling and life-managing capabilities.

That there is now to be a Royal Commission into this type of abuse is a good thing but already the powers that be have established what it is that they wish to investigate, namely a situational aspect only, i.e., "institutions". Why institutions? Is this what causes sexual abuse? Institutions? But who makes up institutions?

When discussing institutions we can discuss the organisations, buildings, the managements, the staff, the furniture even, the sporting equipment, the scouting rules and equipment, the camping ideals. But who is it that makes these up if not other human persons? The church? Who makes up the church if not human beings? Buildings, pews, lecterns, missals, tabernacles, candles, incense, flowers, these do not offend. Who is it that offends except another human being within this institution or other named organisations. And having rationalised that buildings, sports fields, pews, sports equipment, even tabernacles, do not commit abuse, then why is this commission prepared to look only into "institutions"?

After the commission's inquiry into the institutional abuse, what then? Will that mean there will no longer be any abuse of children? Once all the perpetrators of all institutions, which of course must include government agencies, schools and kindergartens, scouting bodies, sports bodies, legal bodies, medical bodies, hospitals, even child minding centres (indeed anywhere that children are to be found) and churches of all denominations, synagogues, temples, mosques. What then?

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