Turning blind eye to sex abuse of children is not a rare flaw

Sydney Morning Herald

August 31, 2014

Annabel Crabb

Most of us – if asked – would agree that the sexual abuse of children is about as bad as human behaviour gets.

Most of us would like to think that we would do anything within our power to avert it, if given the opportunity.

But in the real world, people’s reasons for looking the other way are many and varied.

In Britain this week, the South Yorkshire city of Rotherham – a regional metropolis just a bit smaller than Canberra – was devastated by the release of a report finding that 1400 young girls had been sexually abused and trafficked in the local area over the past seven years.

Councillors, council staff and police – the report found – had profoundly under-reacted to the widespread abuse of children, which was mainly inflicted by men of Pakistani origin.

“Several councillors interviewed believed that by opening up these issues they could be ‘giving oxygen’ to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion,” the report found.

Former Labour MP for the area, Denis MacShane, confessed that he had failed to inquire deeply enough into what was going on.

“I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural boat, if I may put it like that,” he told the BBC.

In Australia at present, the focus is very much on institutions, thanks to the current Royal Commission into sexual abuse.

It’s easy to register the failure of an organisation to respond properly to abuse. It’s easier still when the leadership of that organisation appears to have difficulty registering – on a human level – exactly where that abuse should rank in terms of its priorities.

When Cardinal George Pell drew his recent analogy between church organisations and trucking companies, it was honestly difficult to spot whether he had got the idea from some parchment-shuffler in Vatican PR, or practised it himself in front of the mirror that morning with a hairbrush.

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