Silence won't make abuse go away


Bullied child

My own personal journey has taught me the hard way, that wherever there are people, there will almost always be predators ready to prey on them.

For me this lesson was delivered at the hands of a brutal bully, in primary school. Later, through my ongoing work with victims of crime, this grim reality was only confirmed further to me.

As stark as this reality may be, what my own experience and that of the victims in the Child Abuse Royal Commission shows us, is that though predators may have always been around, so too have countless numbers of supposedly responsible adults, who could have spoken out at the time of the abuse and by doing so have stopped it in its tracks.

The excuses for staying silent, though at times with some merit, are nowhere near adequate by way of justification. This kind of silence has allowed for completely innocent and defenceless children who were entrusted in their care to remain fodder for their respective predators.

Yet, despite such an awareness, the common message we still continue to drive home to victims – be they those of a school bully, a pedophile, or a wife beater – is that if only they speak up and out, help will come their way.

In my memoir I write of several occasions when I spoke out to those who were in positions of responsibility for my welfare and safety, only to have such pleas ignored. What we are hearing out of this current Royal Commission is even worse, with victims not only being ignored, but in turn actually being blamed for the horrific acts committed against them. Indeed, in some cases, victims who came forward were simply delivered into the hands of other pedophiles, who continued to perpetrate shocking acts of abuse against them.

My ordeal only stopped when I physically refused to step foot in the school again. By that stage, I had asked for help from various members of the teaching staff at least a dozen times, over what was a period of several years. Had just one of these people whom I approached for help given my claims the attention they warranted, I could have been spared the further years of suffering I was subjected to.

I was fortunate to escape any long-lasting physical damage as a result of this experience, but mentally I was not so lucky. The prolonged exposure to a threatening environment saw my young mind develop post traumatic stress disorder. This disorder would come to play havoc in all areas of my life for decades after the bully and I had parted ways.

It’s understandable that sometimes, when an issue of wrongdoing comes to one’s attention, it can be easier to hope that if one simply ignores it for long enough, it will play itself out to a resolution of its own accord. One doesn’t want to be seen to cause waves unnecessarily and, after all, what if the claims of wrongdoing are vexatious?

And, yes, what about that bizarre Australian custom of not dobbing on your mates? Issues involving children are a world away from keeping mum about a teammate who likes to take the odd extended lunch break or is prone to grabbing an extra ream of copier paper for their personal use back at home. And though a small amount of allegations do transpire as being untrue, that still doesn’t mean one can’t  provide support to the accuser, by assisting and guiding them to the appropriate bodies who can test such claims through the use of a a fair investigative process.

As the chilling testimony of various child abuse victims continues to demonstrate, we may not be able to do anything about evil existing, it is our silence that allows it the oxygen to continue to grow and prosper. Therefore it’s about time for not only the perpetrators of crimes against children to be held responsible, but so too those who should have spoken up, but chose to not to.

James FryJames Fry's memoir That Fry Boy was published in February by New Holland. He tweets @thatfryboy

Child abuse image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: James Fry, bullying, Child abuse Royal Commission, domestic violence, sex abuse, pedophilia



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Existing comments

This story also applies to our treatment of those on Nauru and Manus island, which is happening now!!!
Toni La Brooy | 19 August 2015

Thank you James, bullying is so ingrained in our way of life. We mistaken resilience for suffering abuse ,"Get over it""Toughen up!" Survival. Are we teaching our children Its about being emotionally guarded,bland or brittle, tough enough? The playground and workplace has a mix of personalities,pecking orders,hierarchies reflecting the might is right rule.Bullies are either suffered in silence, self shame/ blame,personal destruction, or perhaps retaliation with revenge.Yes, instead, we need to nurture real strength of character, as it takes a huge courage. I am hoping we have more conversations as Adam Goodes' heroic stand has shown; change is more than awareness, its a # realisation ...of shared humanity.Truth is scary and liberating.
Catherine | 19 August 2015

Psychologically you hit the bull's eye, James. I think there is something in our culture and construct of "manliness" (and what a false construct that is) that often blames the victim and subjects them to renewed abuse. Workplace bullying, as well as school bullying, is common in Australian society. There is, I think, somewhere in our national psyche, a real "Heart of Darkness". I think many people, who don't know the situation. pooh pooh what you are saying. That, if they but knew it, is a classic psychological defence when people don't want to admit something to themselves. Mentally condoling something bad almost always ensures it continues.
Edward Fido | 19 August 2015

I believe that there is a bully in all of us, it's the bit not made in God's likeness. We all have to acknowledge its existence and learn to control it. We are doing nobody any favours when we fail to take such accusations seriously.
Margaret McDonald | 19 August 2015

you are so right. I learnt to defend myself and face down bullies by the time I was 8, it was a busy 8 years. For too long after my friendships and other personal and necessary relationships were ruined by my hard boiled attitude. My fear of ever being vulnerable. My ingrained distrust of anyone, Its left me with much hurt on my conscience. People say stuff about survival being admirable but I'll always wonder if the collateral damage was worth it.
Jillian | 22 August 2015

I'm with James Fry on this one. Wherever there are the vulnerable there will be the predators and there will be a silent community who do nothing. When I was four years old in the early 1950s my family disintegrated and I was put into the care of a very violent woman. Her two year long 'care' of me included broken bones (never treated) and strangling, and resulted in me being highly traumatised and vulnerable to further abuse, both physical and sexual, for years. The broader response to my almost constant distress was to be branded a 'cry baby' and given 'something real to cry about'. I have xrays from forty years on that show the state of my bones and trachea and it's a wonder I survived her violence. Still in the 1950s I was told that I looked 'like something out of Belsen'. I didn't know what that meant then but I look back wondering why a child in a prosperous NSW country town in the 1950s could have evoked the death camps of the previous decade and nobody thought to investigate. By age twenty, and with petty crime throughout my teen years under my belt, I was within an inch of adult prison. The inner work of emerging from that childhood took decades. It's probably not beyond understanding that I now work in a parallel path to James Fry, he in youth conferencing and me in prison chaplaincy. We sometimes think the world is filled with victims. Then we think it's filled with survivors. Then we realise it's too replete with people who see something but say nothing.
Kim Miller | 24 August 2015


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