This article was prompted by another woeful story of sex abuse committed by Catholic church priests. An episode of the ABC’s Four Corners, Unholy Silence investigated the abuse involving many children such as altar boy Damien who was fondled and sodomised by Father F and whose life went off the rails precipitating a tragic, early death. For the following few days the program and its graphic material instigated and fed much of the media commentary. But that’s as far as it gets. Until the next story of abuse and then the next one.
A new report reveals that dozens of sex abusers in the Australian Defence Force have escaped punishment and been protected and promoted. The review considered specific allegations from 847 different people and covered all decades from the 1950s to now, with the earliest date of alleged abuse in 1951 on a 13-year-old boy by a man now in his 70s. No doubt the stories and the abuse within the defence force , the church and the home will continue to shock, distress and cower us all. We are all victims of these horrible tales of what men do to others.
What is lacking in these stories is any understanding of why the abuse occurs. Yes it is easy to point out that sex is something that humans like to engage in and have evolved to perform. But why the rape – the lack of consent- and the brutality. 75 year-old John Atkins told the ABC’s 7.30 program that his abuse as a 13 year-old recruit included bucketfuls of slops fed down his throat, honey plastered over his bum and a wooden Indian club handle rammed up his bum. ‘I was raped,’ he said. ‘Ruined my life.’
Sexual abuse occurs in a society where unequal power relationships exist between men and women and adults and children. This sexual abuse is sadly common in our patriarchal society – found in the church, the army, the navy, the home and other institutions of male power. ‘Sexual abuse is not a problem of individual pathology occurring between ‘pathological men’ and ‘seductive women and children’. Rather sexual assault occurs because of the way our society functions and favours male dominance over women and children. In Pornography Cultures, journalism professor and author Robert Jensen says that ‘sex is a sphere where men are trained to see themselves as ‘naturally’ dominant and women as ‘naturally’ passive. ‘Power is eroticised.’ This results in a ‘world in which violence, sexualised violence, sexual violence, and violence-by-sex is so common that it must be considered to be normal.’