In the first of our interviews JohnB posed the following questions to Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs.
JohnB: How long have you been involved in the study of sexual abuse? Freda Briggs:
I was involved in child sexual abuse as a member of a multi professional child protection team representing the Metropolitan Police, London (the real "Bill") in the 1950's. I prosecuted cases in the Magistrates Court and organised the youth court for the entire S. Metropolitan London area. In those days it met only on Friday mornings and, despite the vast area covered, there were days when the session was cancelled for want of juvenile crime. Now, there are several courts daily hearing sex crimes by juveniles. I then worked in residential social work with the same children prior to training for teaching as a mature-age student. With that unusual background I was placed in the toughest schools where I realised that abused children could be identified by knowledgeable teachers. I continued studying and became a lecturer in child development in 1970. Although there was only one text book available, I was allowed to introduce the subject of child abuse. In 1980 I was Dean of the Institute of Early Childhood and Family Studies (later UniSA) where I established the world's first multi-professional elective on child protection (The second was at Staten Island, NY which I helped to plan. I then began to realise that there had been no child abuse research in Australia but there was also no research funding available. So I set out to fill some of the gaps using enthusiastic volunteers. I was then invited to conduct research for New Zealand Police and Ministry of Education and you will find that most of my work has been conducted overseas for funding reasons. JohnB: Why is this an important area of study? Freda Briggs:
It's important because child sex abuse is complex; it can damage children's development and, in many cases their adult lives. Child sex abuse correlates with later physical and mental illness, anti social and self destructive behaviour, relationship breakdown, low self esteem, concerns about sexuality, drug and alcohol abuse and crime, including the risk of becoming a sex offender. No country can afford to ignore child sex abuse given that it costs Australian taxpayers an estimated $5B a year. UniSA's research for the Insitute of Criminology (1998) suggested that the tangible costs of each offence were from $125,000 - $200,000 ie. for investigations, child protection services, hospital treatment, court proceedings etc. JohnB: Is this politically a difficult area? Freda Briggs:
It is a very difficult area because "it isn't a nice subject"..not a vote-winner and, of course child victims dont vote.
Few parents of abused children are aware of the political aspects and few contact their members of parliament.
Attorneys General are responsible for the legislation and legal systems. They are usually lawyers influences by lawyers who like the system as it is because it is so easy to confuse, trick, distress and discredit child witnesses. (See Caroline Taylor's book : "Court Licensed Abuse
" published by Ballarat Press. Because state premiers emphasise the toughening up of sentences, police checks etc., few people realise that only about 2% of reported child sex offenders are actually prosecuted and punished (1.8% in Adelaide). You obviously cant rely on police checks to weed out sex offenders with such a system. As long ago as 1995 the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect lobbied our Attorney General for a different style of court for these cases, ie a non-adversarial court using an investigatory rather than an adversarial system, ie where all information can be investigated. They suggested the need for judiciary and lawyers with specialist training in child development, child abuse, grooming methods used by offenders, the effects of abuse on children and their families etc. (After all it takes 4 years to train an early childhood teacher and the only requirement for the court is a degree in law). The needs of the child and the treatment of the offender were to be given priority with hefty sentences for repeat offenders. The Attorney General did not even respond. When I brought this up while addressing a parliamentary lunch, politicians said, "That's because the AG is a lawyer and he is surrounded by lawyers who don't think like parents and human beings". A few weeks later I addressed the Attorney General's Forum and repeated the comments. The reply was, "Its the Liberal Conservatives in the state parliament who don't like change".
In the last year several states have announced reforms on the lines that lawyers would no longer be allowed to bully, shout, yell etc at children; they must ask developmentally appropriate questions. That doesn't impress child advocates given that judges have always been able to stop inappropriate questioning but few do so. And how are lawyers or judges to know what is developmentally appropriate when they have no professional knowledge of child development? What is also disconcerting is that several magistrates have been reported, charged or convicted of sex offences against children. Commissioner Ted Mullighan enquiring into the sexual abuse of children in state care (SA) has indicated that some very prominent people are implicated. It was noted in the media that the deputy DPP of NSW had 2 days in which to discard evidence before police searched his home after child porn had been found on his computer. And of course, there were allegations that NSW police ignored the offences of a NSW judge in return for favours and the Wood Royal Commission revealed that prominent identities were involved. Many people are now cynical about the willingness of the legal system and politicians to protect children. Take a look at what Australia promised to do when it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 - eg provide appropriate legislation - provide education for child protection - treatment for victims - counselling for the families. Where are they? the federal Government says the states are responsible; the states point out that they didnt sign the convention. Many people are now very cynical about the governments' and legal systems' willingness to protect children. JohnB: How do you find the subjects for your studies? Freda Briggs:
For the research with male victims I advertised on community radio, the university student magazine and the Gay Counselling Centre. To interview child sex offenders I applied to Correctional Services. When NSW heard what I was doing I was invited to their sex offender centre. Subjects obviously had to be self selected. At one centre there were so many incarcerated priests that it was referred to as The Seminary. None of the priests would talk to us. Research with children has mostly been through schools and police. Research with foster carers and other professionals has been through their associations and conference attendance. JohnB: What do the findings from your studies indicate? Freda Briggs:
The major finding relating to child sex offenders was that all except two (N=85) had been sexually abused by an average of 14 different persons in childhood; significantly the two were men who had "affairs" with girls marginally under the age of consent and had been reported by their wives. Fifty percent of the offenders were first abused by a female. They did not view this as harmful - the damage was in the early sexualisation process itself. They became interested in sex, albeit at age 5 or 6 and were quickly spotted by male predators who abused them again and again. I should add that most of the men did not admit to being abused; to the contrary. Abuse is denied by male victims if they escaped, liked any aspect of the relationship or grooming process, if it was non-violent, the abuser was a female or if their bodies responded physically to genital fondling - as most do. They then blamed themselves for their own abuse. Boys weren't asked to keep offences secret (as girls are). They kept it secret because the vast majority did not realise that the behaviour was abnormal. As the instigator for the book "From Victim to Offender" said, "I knew that sex was wrong. I'm a Catholic. But sex was about men and women and making babies and it had nothing to do with what was happening to me". We found that boys are most vulnerable when they lack a physically affectionate male parent figure, are shown porn to de-sensitise them to abuse as well as alcohol and/or drugs to lower their resistance. When they want to escape because abuse is painful or obnoxious, they find they are trapped if they have smoked cigarettes and drunk beer (etc). "If you tell you will get into big trouble because you're a bad kid - What will your mum say when she knows you smoked dope? (etc). We found that most men continued to view their offenders with rose-tinted specs. Paedophiles tell boy victims that they love them. The boys believe them. They flatter them and boost their egos. JohnB: Do you undertake any studies involving religious abuse? Freda Briggs:
Not to date. Many of the male victims interviewed (198) told us about abuse by priests and monks. More than half of those abused between the ages of 11 and 15 were abused by religious figures.
There is clearly a need for a thorough investigation into the modus operandii of clergy who offend. Many of the interviewers alleged that the priests told them that they had been chosen by God to provide sexual services.
That is spiritual as well as sexual abuse.
JohnB: Is it difficult to find research data on religious abuse? Freda Briggs:
Yes. Not much has been done because, of course, it would require the cooperation of the churches concerned .. and there are many who would just prefer to pretend that it didn't happen. In a case involving probably two hundred boys, the Anglican clergyman who "blew the whistle" was told by members of his own congregation that he should have remained silent "for the good name of the church". I am aware of several cases in which the victims and their families have been ostracised because they, not the priests, were deemed to have brought shame on the church. This is possibly because most congregations are dominated by old people... and there is a saying, "There's none so blind as those who don't want to see".
A book was written about the Christian Brothers cases in Newfoundland and several publications came from WA relating to offences committed in Christian Brothers Boarding Schools in that state. As I said, clergy in the jails I visited chose to remain isolated and silent. What is needed is a study of the reports made in each diocese but that would be expensive in terms of time and travel and it would probably need authority from the top to gain diocesan cooperation. JohnB: What are some of the most likely effects and issues someone who has been the victim of religious or sexual abuse is likely to encounter in their life? Freda Briggs:
Psychological problems due to the massive spiritual abuse as well as the abuse of power and breach of trust that took place and anger relating to the deceit that is usually used to groom victims and their parents. In some Catholic families, parents were flattered by their sons' popularity with local priests - the priest being viewed as next to God. They gave the priests opportunities to be alone with their sons, making it much easier for the abuse to occur, eg accompanying them to other parishes to act as alter boys. Such families frequently ignored the boys' protestations and indications that something was wrong. This can result in adult survivors feeling great resentment, anger and blame towards those family members. I recall one boy who told his grandmother what was happening and she replied that God would chop off his hands for telling such wicked lies. As a man he hated his grandmother as much as he hated the priest.
The second common problem experienced by male survivors is anxiety relating to their sexuality. This is especially likely if their bodies responded to touching. They blame themselves inappropriately and feel guilty, not recognising that any gentle touch in the genital area is likely to result in a physiological response, ie you don't have to "want it" for it to happen. It is very difficult for many survivors to engage in intimate relationships. They are resistant to being touched, held and comforted and that can result in marital breakdown. Relationship problems then add further to the emotional problems created by the abuse. Distrust is also a major factor. Psychological problems can arise at any time; sometimes they are triggered by a reminder and hit survivors unexpectedly in their 40's or 50's
The second problem for survivors is coping with the way in which church authorities have mis/handled their disclosures of abuse. Insurers seem to take control and tell church leaders not to admit anything, not to apologise... in fact not to behave in a Christian way. Archbishop Aspinall - Brisbane- changed that and wrote immediately to victims saying that he was sorry that this had occurred, that it should not have happened and he offered to provide counselling. Sex offending clergy have shown a tendency to choose victims with families devoted to their church. This made offending comparatively safe because if their crimes were discovered the parents were more likely to report them to the bishop than to police. Many victims did not want to sue their churches but did so only because they were angered by the inhuman legal response. JohnB: We hope to compile a database of offenders and to be able to track the parishes they were located at and the times they were there. Do you believe that this information should be made available by each religion in an easily searched and publicly accessible database? Freda Briggs:
I think you'll find one has already been made John. I've seen it.
JohnB: Do you think it would be reasonable to expect that the religious groups who have had or still have offenders within their ranks have an obligation to assist in the provision of this data? Freda Briggs:
Obligations don't mean a thing! Congregations and probably administrators want to forget it and move on.JohnB: Do you feel that religious groups are doing enough in the areas of identifying abusers and in supporting victims? Freda Briggs: They have been slow in supporting victims. It isn't just about money. A Brisbane victim now living in Perth suggested that there should be a website so that victims who left Queensland could contact each other. However the problem with mutual support is that it can leave people in victim mode long after they could have moved on. JohnB: Are you familiar with the articles contained in the "U. S. Bishops' Charter For Protection Of Children And Young People" index.php?id=25 ? Freda Briggs: No I wasn't but what they write and what they claim to do are usually far removed from what actually happens. They are good on rhetoric and short on action.