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The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse established by the Gillard government, ran from November 2012 – December 2017. It handled 42,041 calls, 25,964 email and letters, held 8013 private sessions and made 2,575 referrals to authorities and police. It produced 17 volumes that contained 85 recommendations spanning a wide range of services, institutions and justice system. The Tasmania Commission of Inquiry commenced in March 2021 and released its final report in September 2023. It examined Launceston General Hospital and Ashley Youth Detention Centre, as well as public schools and children’s out-of-home care dating back to 2000, in addition to exploring the weaknesses in systems, organisations and facilities. In August 2023 the commission published a 3000-page final report, making 75 findings and 191 recommendations. It also referred more than 100 people to police and child protection authorities (Nick Feik, The Monthly, Feb 2024). The Hawke government established a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1987. The final report in 1991 made 339 recommendations, mainly concerned with procedures for persons in custody, liaison with Aboriginal groups, police education and improved accessibility to information. Since the conclusion of the RC there have been 560 deaths in custody, 7 since 1 January 2024.
Other countries have held inquiries into institutional abuse and wrongdoing. New Zealand established a Royal Commission into Abuse in Care with the final report due in March 2024. Canada published its report into Restoring Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions in 2000. Northern Ireland held a Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry that ran from 2012 – 2017. Ireland held a judicial commission Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation established in 2015 to investigate deaths and misconduct in mother and baby homes during the 20th Century. In January 2021, the final report detailed that around 9,000 children, one in seven of those born in the 18 institutions covered by the Commission’s terms of reference, had died in them between 1922 and 1998, double the rate of infant mortality in the general population. The Waterhouse Inquiry in Northern Wales investigated abuse allegations in care homes in the 1970s and 1980s with findings published in its report Lost in Care in February 2000.
Published in January 2024, the courageous memoir, ‘in bad faith’, by Dassi Erlich details the long emotionally, mentally and physically arduous journey to bring her, and her two sisters’ perpetrator, Malka Leifer, to justice. Their fight entailed staring down the strict ultra orthodox Adass community in Australia in which the sisters were raised, who helped Leifer flee to Israel, and the community in Israel that protected her. A David and Goliath battle ensued with the Israeli legal system to extradite Leifer to face 74 charges of sexual abuse in Australia. This battle saw obstruction at the highest levels with Deputy Health Minister in the Knesset, Yaakov Litzman indicted for witness tampering, fraud and breach of trust.
Cover ups, protection by institutions of perpetrators, and bystanders, those who know but do nothing, motivated by protecting assets and brand, make exposing and bringing perpetrators to justice an arduous journey. Many victim-survivors are understandably not willing or able to traverse it alone and need champions such as Erlich describes in her memoir. Another institutional abuse case that came to public attention in June 2023 of serial child rapist, Kevin Wilmore Myers, at Trinity College, Colac also had such a champion. Myers was brought to justice by the persistence of a past student, Dean Paatsch (not a victim of Myers), who pursued his decades of abuse and cover ups on behalf of fellow classmates abused by this teacher.
Louise Milligan in her book Witness: An investigation into the brutal cost of seeking justice (2020), highlights the retraumatisation of victim-survivors through the legal system and alarmingly low rates of convictions in rape and historical child sexual abuse cases. Former Australian of the Year, Grace Tame said, “Victim-survivors are expected to relive their experiences through jarring, repetitious, protracted interrogative processes that involve ceding power to several fractured players with different motives — police, legal counsel, prosecutors, court reporters, the wider media, and the public …..We are effectively treated as witnesses in our own case. Ironically, this escalating loss of control replicates the power imbalance that underpins abuse.”
On 7 February 2024, the Albanese government introduced legislation to improve the experience of victims and survivors of sexual violence in our justice system. The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into how the justice system handles sexual violence, will look to shore up the criminal justice system’s response to sexual assault and prevent further harm being caused to victim-survivors. In December 2022, a new positive duty on employers to eliminate workplace sex discrimination and harassment commenced and came into effect in December 2023. The positive duty was a key recommendation of the Commission’s landmark Respect@Work Report, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
In the face of these significant inquiries and changes to the Australian legal and workplace landscape it is timely to present the groundbreaking work on Institutional Betrayal and Institutional Courage by Prof. Emerit Jennifer Freyd.
Institutions are the building blocks of a civil society. People depend on government, schools, universities, police, hospitals, mental health services, the legal profession and judiciary to enrich and protect their lives. Unfortunately, institutions often fail the very people they should protect. The concept of “institutional betrayal” refers to both the wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution and the harms – both material and psychological – that individuals can experience in response. Institutional courage is an antidote to institutional betrayal. Institutional courage involves an institution’s commitment to seek the truth and engage in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost.
In this webinar, Prof. Emerit. Jennifer Freyd will explore the power of institutions to act with institutional courage, and the importance of accountability and transparency in these critical moments. She will explain her concepts of betrayal trauma, betrayal blindness, DARVO, and institutional betrayal – and how these ideas and her research findings led to her work on institutional courage. Freyd will provide concrete steps for both individuals and institutions to address violence and gender discrimination through a lens of institutional courage.
Participants will be able to:
Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD, is a researcher, author, educator, and speaker. Freyd is the Founder and President of the Center for Institutional Courage, Professor Emerit of Psychology at the University of Oregon, Affiliate Professor of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, University of Washington, and Affiliated Faculty, Women’s Leadership Lab, Stanford University. She is also the Co-Founder of the consulting firm Alto Group.
From 2019-2023 Freyd was a Member of the Advisory Committee of the Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education, National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Freyd was in 1989-90 and again in 2018-19 a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Freyd served as the Editor of The Journal of Trauma & Dissociation from 2006 through 2023.
Freyd is a widely published and renowned scholar known for her theories of betrayal trauma, institutional betrayal, institutional courage, and DARVO. She received her PhD in Psychology from Stanford University. The author or coauthor of over 200 articles and op-eds, Freyd is also the author of the Harvard Press award-winning book Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse. Her most recent book Blind to Betrayal, co-authored with Pamela J. Birrell, was published by John Wiley, with seven additional translations. In 2014, Freyd was invited two times to the U.S. White House due to her research on sexual assault and institutional betrayal. In 2021 Freyd and the University of Oregon settled Freyd’s precedent-setting equal pay lawsuit.
Freyd has received numerous awards including being named a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, an Erskine Fellow at The University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In April 2016, Freyd was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation. Freyd was selected for the 2021 Christine Blasey Ford Woman of Courage Award by the Association for Women in Psychology.
Jennifer presented for Delphi in 2002 and will be presenting a live webinar in 2024.
Photo Credit: Mat Bray
– Ben Okri
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