‘Need to be heard’: alleged abuse survivors say Kenja must be forced to join Australia’s redress scheme

The Guardian [London, England]

October 24, 2021

By Tory Shepherd

Organisation’s founder faced multiple allegations of sexual abuse before his death, but denies all wrongdoing and refuses to join the plan

Annette Stephens abandoned her children. Michelle Ring says she was given antiseptic lollies so she didn’t get a mouth infection after being sexually abused as a child. A father says his teenage daughter alleged abuse, and that she and others deserve to be heard.

Another person who says they have a wealth of knowledge about Kenja Communications says they are too afraid to speak publicly about it.

Kenja is now the only organisation still refusing to join the redress scheme set up in the wake of the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. The scheme was set up in 2018 to hold institutions accountable for abuse, and to help survivors get financial compensation and an apology or “direct personal response”.

Kenja has been operating for decades, has always denied sexual abuse allegations levelled at its founder and denies accusations it is a cult. Kenja has described itself as a non-religious personal development organisation. There have been multiple allegations about child sex abuse by its now-deceased founder, Ken Dyers – whom the police have referred to as a “cult leader”.

In 2007, Dyers was facing 22 charges of sexual assault relating to alleged assaults on two underage girls during Kenja counselling sessions, but was deemed unfit for trial. He took his own life after being made aware that a third complainant had madefurther allegations of sexual abuse.

Dyers’ partner, Jan Hamilton, still runs the group that was named by combining the first letters of their names. It is based in Sydney, with smaller offices in Melbourne and Canberra. No allegations of sexual abuse have been made against Hamilton herself.

Stephens says she was “fragile” when she became involved with Kenja in 1982. “I was in a really bad way,” she says. So when a friend suggested she come along to a seminar, she went. Kenja says it offers “spiritual understanding in a physical world” through “energy conversion meditation”.

Stephens was “hooked”, she says.

She gave up her home and her children, and went on to become a leader in the organisation.

But as the stories mounted from girls who were allegedly abused by Dyers, she says, her belief collapsed. Now, years later, she has rebuilt her relationships with her children, and writes letters to her great-grandchildren about the life lessons she has learned.

She says the word “closure” is too vague. What she wants is for alleged victims to be heard, their pain recognised, and for Kenja to be pulled into the redress scheme.

‘This organisation is bad’

This month a parliamentary committee inquiry into the redress scheme’s rollout heard more allegations against Kenja.

The federal government has used what levers it can to get recalcitrant organisations to join the scheme. They are now named online, cannot receive government grants and will lose charitable tax exemptions. None of these moves has prompted Kenja to come forward, and under the current legislation it is able to refuse.

Stephens says it should “absolutely” be forced to take part. Others echo that call, including Michelle Ring, who spoke to the inquiry last week.

Under parliamentary privilege, Ring told the inquiry she was “a survivor of institutional sexual child abuse”.

“I am 51 years old and a single mum of four. I was groomed and emotionally abused by Jan Hamilton, and sexually, emotionally and physically abused by Ken Dyers for seven years whilst in Kenja,” she told the committee.

“There were many adults who knew of and/or witnessed my abuse. There are many children just like me who now need to be heard and believed before we start to heal.”

Ring told the committee Hamilton drove her “in her white VW to Ken”.

“She gave me antiseptic lollies after each session … so I wouldn’t get infections in my mouth from his abuse,” she said.

“There are many who have the same story.”

Ring wants the law changed so the government is the “unconditional funder of last resort”, and to ensure there are consequences for abusers.

Ring told the inquiry the culture in Kenja was one of “complete control”. While other organisations that are part of the redress scheme may have been “honest organisations who had bad people”, she said, “this organisation is bad”.

Kenja told the Guardian Hamilton had “previously, publicly, vigorously denied the allegations made by Ms Ring … as completely baseless and shameful” and referred to statements on its website.

In a separate, earlier statement Kenja said it rejected “any claim that sexual abuse of children has ever taken place at this organisation” and that it opposed “all human degradation including sexual abuse”.

In a response to the inquiry published on Monday, the government conceded there were problems with the scheme. The government said it would increase its own funding where an organisation is “defunct”. However, “this proposal does not cover existing institutions that have the capacity to join but choose not to,” it said.

Kenja says on its website it acknowledges “the vital imperatives behind the National Redress Scheme” but “we do not consider it appropriate that we join in circumstances where genuine claims against us do not exist. Accordingly, Kenja will not be cajoled or threatened into joining the Scheme.”

The father who says his daughter was allegedly molested at Kenja says the redress scheme is meant to be an opportunity for people to come forward to be heard.

“Many are traumatised, and have taken a considerable period of time to speak up. The government should … allow these girls, and the rest who will no doubt come forward when it is safe to do so, to properly convey their feelings and begin the process of healing,” he says.

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