It probably makes me a terrible person, but I cannot look at the name of this party without being irresistibly reminded of Tom Lehrer’s introduction to his song about the Folk Song Army: “It takes a certain amount of courage to get up in a coffee-house or a college auditorium and come out in favor of the things that everybody else in the audience is against like peace and justice and brotherhood and so on”.
Fortunately, I feel reasonably certain that most Australians feel comfortable uniting against paedophilia, and I think we can all be glad that there isn’t a song about this. Unless you count this one. Which is awesome.
So, The Australian Antipaedophile Party. Can we guess what their policies might be about?
(I’ll stop being frivolous in a moment, but I do need to take one more moment to comment on the fact that this is another somewhat poorly-designed website – it took me a while to realise that it wasn’t, in fact, broken, because when you click on the links to ‘Mission Statement’ or ‘Aims’, everything new loads underneath all the information on the front page, including the donate button and facebook button. You have to scroll past a whole screen worth of stuff to get to the new bits. This is not a good way to get people to read your your information.)
Here’s a little bit about them:
Our mission is to change the approaches to child protection for children in Australia in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child through cultural, political, procedural and legislative reform. We seek to respond to and prevent child sexual abuse through raising educational and cultural public awareness and demanding accountability, and the effective and just management of child sexual abuse including influencing the legal processes so that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done, for the safety and wellbeing of all Australian children.
So far, so sensible.
My next stop on this site was ‘Meet the AAPP’, where we get to read a truly harrowing story from the founder, Dr Russell Pridgeon, who also explains a bit of his strategy:
I am a doctor of 35 years standing, who became involved in Child Protection while trying desperately to protect a child, from his father, a very sinister and effective paedophile. We were forced by the courts to facilitate contact between a terrified child and the man we knew was going to continue to abuse him. This I can never forget or forgive.
I sought help from child protection organisations, and became involved with them, trying to help other protective parents, finding myself to be absolutely powerless, becoming as traumatised as the people I was trying to help.I sought intervention from Parliamentarians, without success, finding them lacking in both the will and the courage to act helpfully. However I gained the insight that, if they did not care about child abuse, they did care about their political self interest, and conceived the idea of creating a single issue party, to become a balance of power party in the Federal Parliament. We would not wish to become an opposition party, we would hope to support the government of the day, trading our votes in return for the creation of a Royal Commission into the Family Court and the child protection services.
OK, you have my attention, and it’s time to be serious (and also to note that the theme of today’s reading appears to be ‘fix the Family Court’). The AAPP candidates are people who have experience with both the Family Court and child abuse. And, after wading through the cesspit that was the Equal Parenting Party, it is refreshing to read something like this, from Tasmanian candidate, David Crawford:
I am a father of two daughters, one 12 and the other 7, and having been through the family court system I am disgusted that parents rights are put ahead of the safety and welfare of children.
…What is even worse, I am aware of children who have disclosed incidents of abuse, family violence and neglect by a parent and their family and the perpetrator’s lawyer has argued that the child and the other parent must be lying and the judge accepts this pathetic argument even though there are Medical Experts who have provided reports supporting the child’s allegations. Of course the judge gave the offending parent 50/50 custody and of course the abuse continued.
Bless you, David, because this a perfect example of was what was missing from the EPP – a sense that children’s rights were important, and that they are more than commodities.
The AAPP quotes statistics on child abuse, noting that very little of it is reported and it’s very hard to get it to court. They also note that sentences tend to be light, and point out that, for all the concern about stranger danger, most abuse happens in the home, and is by people you trust. Which, incidentally, is the same with sexual abuse of adults.
I’m a bit bemused by the recurring sentence “THESE ARE OUR CHILDREN, THEY ARE NOT STRANGERS”. This seems to be their tag-line, but it’s a little strange.
Incidentally, the tone of the writing on this website is unusually emotional for a political website – while they have clear, step-by-step goals and a plan, they also write with great feeling. This is clearly a very personal issue for the party members. (This is absolutely not a criticism, by the way, but it’s really a different reading experience to the other party websites.)
The chief goal of this party is to ‘reduce the shocking rate of child sexual abuse in Australia’, by strengthening laws, educating people about child abuse, and by requiring a Royal Commission into the Family Court (are we playing the Royal Commission drinking game yet?).
Their Royal Commission will be specifically into the ‘inadequacy of present day child protection services, the criminal justice and Family Court systems in their dealings with children’ – none of which were addressed in the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. They feel that the system is quite corrupt, and are particularly scathing about Independent Children’s Lawyers (‘the damage they have caused is incalculable’). They want to examine the merits of creating a Tribunal system instead of an adversarial Family Court system, and they want more transparency so that people know what goes on in Family Court Hearings.
You know, I was quite skeptical when the EPP called for a tribunal and more transparent reporting of court proceedings, but I’m now wondering if I was too hasty. The AAPP are coming at this from a completely different perspective – one far more centred on what is best for children – and are reaching the same conclusions. While this could be in part a result of the fact that 50% of people who go through the Family Court are inevitably going to feel that they have been treated unfairly, I do think that if such different groups are both raising the same concerns, there might be something in this…
The AAPP wants to make judges who have been ‘corrupted… absolutely’ and ‘reprehensible’ Independent Children’s Lawyers accountable for their actions, and prosecute them where necessary. They feel that the Family Court is corrupt on a systemic level.
Within the child protection system there is a systematic practice of disbelieving a child’s disclosure of abuse, blaming the protective parent for the disclosures by accusing them of coaching the child to make the accusations, effectively treating the protective parent as a criminal, ordering the protective parent to have psychiatric assessments, removing the child from the protective parent because they are “emotionally abusive/psychologically damaging” to the child, ordering the child into the custody of the parent who the child has disclosed is abusing them, and only allowing the protective parent to have supervised contact with the child thereafter.
I’d like to note that this is the precise opposite of the allegations by the EPP that it is incredibly easy for a woman to deprive her ex-husband of custody just by claiming abuse, and everyone always goes along with this. And I have to say, I’m inclined to believe the AAPP’s story over the EPP’s, if only because matches my own experience with friends who have reported rape or abuse. As a society, we’re not very good at believing women, and are terrified of letting people be falsely accused.
But in some ways, it doesn’t matter what I believe – both the AAPP and the EPP are calling for transparency and reporting, and if this happens, the evidence will speak for itself soon enough.
On related legal matters, in addition to mandatory minimum sentencing, the AAPP wants a register of child sex offenders, with restrictions on their contact with children. I rather thought we already had that – are they asking for a public one? They want an Ombudsman for Child Abuse and another for Domestic Violence. I have no idea how this would work, but OK.
There is a strong emphasis here on education. They want to educate police, child protection agencies and the courts on the ‘scientific and sociological research findings of child sexual abuse and the behaviour of paedophiles, so that they do not continue to act from their present culture of urban myth, ignorance and prejudice’. I wonder if this is a reference to the nasty myth that gay = paedophile? They also want to educate parents, teachers and childcare workers, and, most importantly, I think, develop “developmentally appropriate child protection and personal safety education to be included in the national curriculum”. This all sounds like an excellent idea.
And now they talk a bit more about child sex abuse in Australia, and its effects on children and their development. They comment rather bitterly in passing that the Government doesn’t seem to care about this because children don’t vote. While they talk about both boys and girls being abused, they do emphasise boys a bit more, and also make the somewhat bizarre comment that “Boys may become confused about their sexuality and blame themselves for their abuse”. This sounds a little bit like the idea that abuse makes boys grow up to be gay, which is a rather unfortunate thing to find in an otherwise sensible and well-researched document. They lament, again, the tragic fact that one third of adults will disbelieve a child’s disclosures of abuse, which is pretty awful, and explains why the courts are not good at accepting children’s testimonies. There’s some pretty strong language about the courts ‘trafficking children to paedophiles’ – but honestly, if what they are reporting reflects reality, strong language seems called for. And, ironically, they blame the 2006 Family Court reforms that make “shared parenting” the norm for these problems.
No more jokes here. This is a party that is doing its best to address a serious issue, and is going about it quite intelligently. I wish them the best of luck.
Here are some resources:
The Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) provides free telephone counselling for children under 18.
The BlueKnot Helpline (1300 657 380) is aimed at survivors of child abuse.
The Child Wise National Child Abuse Helpline (1800 99 10 99) provides access to expert advice from trained counsellors and an opportunity to speak up about child abuse.
And here’s a pretty thorough roundup of resources through the Australian Government website, Child Family Community Australia.