Report into Harm in Care released in New Zealand, SNAP Responds
We are stunned to read in the recently released report from the New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions, that up to 256,000 children, young people, and adults at risk were abused physically and/or sexually in faith-based and state-run institutions across the country from the 1960s to early 2000s. Almost 40% of all those who were housed in New Zealand institutions during that period were abused.
Our hearts are broken to read about the extent of abuse in these institutions. These are simply staggering statistics, especially in a country with only about five million people. One has to wonder if a ratio of almost one in two were abused in New Zealand, what about Fiji and Papua New Guinea, other Pacific Island nations? Was this a trend only in the UK dominated colonies or could we expect the same in other places where religious and state-run institutions were paid to "care" for children?
Nevertheless, we are concerned that despite these numbers, many victims and survivors in New Zealand have still not come forward to report to the Royal Commission. For example, it is known to SNAP Aotearoa that in the Hawkes’s Bay region alone, scores of victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and religious of the Catholic Church have not yet reported the abuse they suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church.
We hope that the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will thoroughly study these findings and use its authority to take immediate steps to eradicate this scourge. We believe that a zero-tolerance policy should apply to institutions and the leaders within them that enabled this abuse. Such a policy is a necessary bulwark to protect future children, young people, and adults at risk from abuse. Additionally, to the extent these abuses were perpetrated by religious entities, those entities should be identified, and criminal charges brought wherever possible. Administrators of such institutions love to talk about how allegations are only from "historical cases, and we have cleaned up our act.” But rather than take those protestations at face value, we hope that the New Zealand Royal Commission will use its powers to look further under every rock and in every existing state and faith-based institution to discover where the abuse is still occurring today, and make the necessary recommendations to stop it.
The structures and systems that created this abuse must be exposed and eliminated. All living leaders of these abusive institutions should be charged with crimes. We hope that a significant portion of the recommendations from this Royal Commission will advise to change the structures that caused the abuse and fostered its coverup, and to change civil law so that not only is sexual abuse of anyone in a state or faith-based institution deemed a crime, but the secrecy and coverup of such abuse is also deemed a crime in its own right. Further, we hope that the New Zealand Government will ensure to give justice to all victims and survivors. The complicit organizations must pay reparations to these hundreds of thousands of victims even if it means some of those institutions go bankrupt or become extinct.
We also cannot help but note that wherever there are people at risk, poor people and in particular, indigenous and minority groups, sexual and physical violence seems to run rampant. The tangata whenua (Māori) and Pasifika communities in Oceania, like Alaska’s indigenous population in the United States, have among the worst Catholic-on-indigenous abuse ratios documented. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is in bankruptcy, has a large Hispanic and Native American population and hundreds of victims. The Canadian Catholic Church is just beginning to face its reckoning for years of abuse from dumping abusive priests in indigenous areas. What must follow New Zealand’s reckoning is that of other Pacific Islands nations as well.
Meanwhile, we are grateful for the New Zealand Royal Commission and to the Government of New Zealand. If a country of five million can produce 250,000 victims, we shudder at the true numbers in places like America, with over 300 million people and shared cultural roots.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)