Marama Fox: We need to lift the scab on child abuse and investigate failure of the state

Marama Fox: We need to lift the scab on child abuse and investigate failure of the state
Photo credit: Getty.

OPINION: Aotearoa is the little country doing big things in the world, or so we like to think. Yet there are some number one placings I would rather leave behind. Number one for highest suicides in the world. Right up there for domestic violence and fifth highest in the world for child abuse. The most insidious of all crimes against children is to take away their innocence through sexual abuse.  

Many believe that families and poor parenting are to blame. However, over and again I hear the tales of betrayal and heartbreak at the hands of a broken state-run system. Not only did the state jeopardise the child by failing to provide safe care, but cultivated, propagated and then covered up the ongoing violation of those they were tasked to protect.  

We have the opportunity to expose the truth behind abuse in this nation, and the failure of the state to protect its most vulnerable citizens. However, if we do not do this properly we may as well not do it at all. That is also the opinion of Justice Peter McClellan, who headed the Australian Commission. When the Justice and Electoral Select Committee had the opportunity to visit the Commission in 2017, he made it clear to us that if you're going to do it, do it properly. The Australian Commission spent in excess of $500 million and produced reports throughout the five years of the inquiry that have informed changes in legislation at both state and federal levels.  

The problem with New Zealand's inquiry is in the resistance of both the previous National Government and the current Labour Government to commit to a full and transparent far-reaching enquiry. It seems that both governments have run from the consequences before exploring the root causes and subsequent systematic responses over more than 60 years.  

Grant West, who bought the original petition to the steps of Parliament, was clear. His petition called for an inquiry into the institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Yet, while the previous Government refused to even entertain the idea of an inquiry, the current Government has offered such restrictive boundaries to the terms of reference that they may as well not do it. It's all in the wording and timing. Currently, the terms of reference do not allow the inquiry to look past 1999. Supposedly all abuse stopped when the Government closed those institutions, but we know better.

The Government should use this opportunity to look into the failings of the state to respond to institutionalised abuse. That would open up the inquiry to look at all institutions that failed in their responsibility to care for their children, and the governmental response once they knew about the abuse. That, in turn, would allow us as to take the necessary measures to change what we do in the future to reverse the sickening levels of abuse in our nation.

New Zealand has had a steady increase in abuse statistics over time. In 2016, 20 percent of girls and 9 percent of boys in New Zealand reported unwanted sexual touching or being forced to do sexual things.  I have listened to the heartbreaking stories of the survivors of state abuse. The intergenerational impact of this abuse directly contributes to the rising incidence of it.

With the agreement of the Government to conduct a Royal Commission into the abuse of children in state care we have the opportunity to lift the scab on child abuse and investigate the failure of the state to care for its most vulnerable. The correlation between abuse in state care and the rise of gangs in this nation has already been evidenced.

Paora Joass Moyle describes the effects of abuse as 'whakapapa trauma', impacting on not just the abused but also causing intergenerational harm.

Acknowledging the plight of our survivors should be pivotal. But, if we can make the right changes in the systematic response and focus on proactive prevention, we can and will save our children's children from the continuing rise of abuse, a-tinana, a-hinegnaro, a-wairua a-whatumanawa hoki.

Marama Fox is the co-leader of the Māori Party.

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