Sex abuse survivors accuse Scottish inquiry of 'abusing' them all over again
By Vicky Allan
March 05, 2016
|Charity Group meeting for Survivors of Sexual and Physical Abuse by the Catholic Church.Pictured Survivor Andi Lavery|
SURVIVORS are growing so despondent at the progress of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry that many say they feel like they are being abused all over again.
Survivors say the Scottish government is failing them, and feel the slow progress and limited remit of the inquiry is adding insult to the already very grievous injuries they have suffered, and believe they will never see the justice they deserve.
Andi Lavery, of Catholic survivor group White Flowers Alba, has even declared that he no longer wants to testify at the inquiry. “They offer us only further trauma and intrusion upon our continued suffering,” he said. Alan Draper of survivor organisation In Care Abuse Survivors (INCAS) has also said that survivors have “lost all faith in the Scottish Government’s ability to help them to achieve justice, accountability and redress”.
That anger was palpable at a Glasgow meeting of fourteen survivors who are members of White Flowers Alba. These were people whose personal stories are unthinkably harrowing: tales of child rape, repeated beatings and grooming. One survivor read out a letter he had written to his now dead abuser. “Dear Paedophile, Remember me, I’m back. I’m writing this letter to let you know how disturbed a person you are. You sexually abused me many years ago on numerous occasions.”
Another described being gang raped. “I believe,” he said, “Father Brendan Smyth [a notorious and now dead abuser of children] was one of the men who raped me. He was one of the most notorious paedophiles in Northern Ireland and I was a victim of him in Scotland.”
The legacy of abuse is apparent in many of their lives. Some in the room have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcoholism, panic attacks, a lifetime or intermittent work, suicide attempts, failed relationships. “I blamed myself all my life,” said one survivor. “I thought I was the only child in the world that happened to. You feel the shame factor. You want to commit suicide and you’re drinking, drinking, drinking to subdue the horrors of the past.”
For them the inquiry, with its focus on mainly residential care, is too small in scope. Their frustrations are aggravated in part by the sense that progress is happening elsewhere. These survivors look outside Scotland and they see the huge Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, led by Justice Goddard, with its gargantuan remit, its investigations of councils, churches, residential schools, custodial institutions, MPs and grooming networks, its inclusion of “accountability and reparations”. They see an injustice in the lack of “parity” with England.
They also look at Australia and see their royal commission, an inquiry so powerful that last week it forced Cardinal George Pell, aide to the Pope, to be interviewed in Rome, over what he knew of Catholic Church abuse while bishop at Ballarat. Lavery declares: “Our good friends from Ballarat are holding Cardinal Pell and his church to full account, yet in Scotland is anyone even bothered?”
They see Spotlight, the movie about the Boston Globe investigation of Catholic Church abuse, win an Oscar, and they wonder why more is not being done here to dig into the way what happened in Scotland may mirror what happened in Boston.
For the people at that White Flowers Alba meeting, some of whom have been struggling for justice for years, the current pace is too slow - what is offered too little. Meetings with the government, like one conducted with cabinet secretary for education Angela Constance three weeks ago, they feel, are not offered readily enough; approaches, they feel, are made too late.
All but one of those fourteen at the survivors meeting believed their abuse was not going to be considered within the Scottish inquiry. However, according to a government spokesperson, allegations around Fort Augustus Abbey school, which some of them attended, will be included. But the survivors were not made aware of the fact - fuelling even more anger and disappointment.
Such is their frustration, that when Lavery learned that Fort Augustus was to be part of the Scottish inquiry, he declared he would not testify. Instead, he plans to testify before the English inquiry - as Fort Augustus was run by English Benedictines it is included in the English inquiry.
Referring to the English inquiry, Lavery says: "They’re offering us accountability and redress.”
Lavery also added that “a significant group of us who went to Fort Augustus Abbey school will never engage with the [Scottish] inquiry as its fundamentally flawed. Meanwhile in England they are offering an entirely different process for English Benedictine survivors to engage with. Where is equality under the law?”
But it’s not only survivors who are frustrated. Andrew McLellan, the former moderator of the Church of Scotland who headed the McLellan commission, an external review of safeguarding protocols in the Catholic Church, is also despondent about the lack of progress. “Throughout our inquiry we heard over and over again the pain and the humiliation of abused people telling us they had never been listened to. If government will not listen to all those survivors who have suffered while in the care of non-residential institutions, it will repeat the pain and humiliation. They will also be unable to understand the scale of the problem or to make adequate recommendations.”
But the problem is also bigger than just this inquiry. What upsets survivors is a lack of meaningful movement on many levels. They see what they believe is the Catholic Church dragging its heels in taking action on the recommendations of the McLellan Inquiry. Even Andrew McLellan himself notes, with disappointment: “By now members of the Catholic Church need to have been reassured that steps are being taken to involve survivors, and to be completely open and transparent about what is being done. If this opportunity is missed now it may never come again.”
The Scottish government has responded to these criticisms. A spokesperson pointed out that Scotland is the only country in the world to have introduced a “survivor fund” and highlighted, among other things, the fact that the Scottish inquiry, is “engaging with survivors”, that its scope had already been expanded, and that it is wider in one way than many other inquiries: it deals with physical as well as sexual abuse.
The Catholic Church in Scotland too has responded. “At present,” said a spokesperson, “the Church is doing its utmost to ensure that it is as safe as possible, we are implementing in full the recommendations of the McLellan inquiry and will be asking survivors to participate in this process.”
But the fact remains that at a time when in other parts of the world survivors are finally being heard, a great many here are feeling shut out. Labour MSP Iain Gray has long supported Scottish survivors in their fight. “The degree to which we get this inquiry right,” he says, “is the degree to which survivors have confidence in the inquiry. That seems fundamental. And what survivors are now saying makes very clear that they are at the point of losing confidence in the whole process.”
“With the English inquiry,” he added, “after a rocky start, they have now got to the position where survivors do seem to have confidence in the inquiry and the process. We need to get to there. And if that involves the cabinet secretary admitting she had got something wrong, then that’s what Theresa May had to do. And she’s got to a better place for having done it.”
Raped by Catholic priests
“Between eight and 11, I was raped by at least 20 different Catholic priests. In the school playground, a priest approached me. The arrival of that priest was when everything in my life went wrong. This priest was evil. Among the things he did to me was put crocodile clips on my genitals and gave me electric shocks. He was the first person who raped me and he was a sadist.”
Physical abused in Smyllum Park Orphanage
“One nun and a helper abused me mentally and physically, from age three or four. They used to come round to check the beds at night to see if anyone had wet themselves. They would put water on the bed and say I had peed the bed and then they would drag me out of the bed and put me in a cold shower and a cold bath and throw me in it for hours. I had to sit in the freezing cold water. To this day when I get into a bath it has to be that hot that I’d almost burn myself.”
Sexually abused in a Catholic boarding school
“This monk came round at night to all the dormitories to go round the beds where the pupils slept and sit beside them. On one occasion he put his hand over my face while he touched me, and kissed me and put his tongue on my ear. I remember the smell of coffee from his breath. Every night he would come round and try to masturbate you, touch your genitals, touch all your body. And when you woke up in the morning your pyjama bottoms were down at your ankles. Such a trauma haunts you.”