Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
It's a real honour to stand up and speak about this in this House because, like many of the other members, I had the opportunity to meet some of the survivors who were here for the national apology on Monday. I met one of them in my office and I asked him a very, very simple question, and that question was: was the apology meaningful to you? We had a very emotional conversation and he assured me that, yes, absolutely, it was meaningful. It was meaningful to be heard, it was meaningful to finally be acknowledged and it was meaningful to be finally told that what happened to them mattered.
There was one thing that the opposition leader said in his speech that really raised a lot of emotion in me personally. That's because, in his speech in the House on that day, he paid heed to those who suffered sexual abuse as children who were not in institutions, and extended that apology to children who have suffered and survived sexual abuse in all situations.
It brought back some memories, some painful memories, I must say, for me. I grew up in the outer suburbs of Sydney. We lived in a very multicultural street, but across the road from me lived this Australian family. I would look at this Australian family and I would wish that my family was much more like them, because they did these Aussie things. They went to restaurants and movies and my family didn't, because my dad always said, 'Why should I go to a restaurant when your mum can cook me a meal at home?' I really wanted to be like that family, and I formed a friendship with the young girl across the road from me who was my age. I have many, many fond memories of growing up in the suburbs of Sydney with my dearest and my closest childhood friend. As we grew older in our late teens, that family moved away and I lost touch with my childhood friend, who I'd spent so many beautiful hours with, roaming around the bush around the Georges River.
A couple of years ago I got an email from her brother, who asked me if I was the same Anne Aly who grew up in the suburbs of Sydney. He asked me how I was doing and how my family was doing. I was very excited to receive this email, because it meant that I could possibly reconnect with my childhood friend. So I wrote back to him, and I said 'Wow, it's so fantastic to hear from you. How are you? How's your family? How's your sister?' He wrote back not long after and he said, 'I'm really sorry to tell you this, Anne, because I don't know if I should, but my dad's in jail and my sister was sexually abused by him from the age of six.' He ended his email by saying, 'I'm constantly shocked by how many people keep saying my father was such a nice man, because he wasn't a nice man at all.' I cried for days after that, and I felt this immense sense of guilt about how could I not have known—how could I not have known that my closest friend, the dearest person to me, my second sister, was being so terribly and horribly abused by her father all those years that we were growing up? Even though I know I was only a child too at that time, I just couldn't shake this feeling of guilt that I should have known and I should have been able to do something, and this feeling of helplessness that I couldn't have done anything for her.
Not long after that, she came to visit me in Perth and she spent a weekend with me. It was great to reconnect with my childhood friend. Many of the memories that I had of her came rushing back: the shy way that she giggled behind her hand whenever I said something a little bit controversial, her beautiful little elfin features. She hadn't changed much at all, and she was still that young girl that I remember growing up with. She spent a weekend as a house guest in our house, and we had long conversations about our childhoods. There was one thing that she wanted to know. The one thing she wanted to know from me was whether or not her father had also abused me. He hadn't, and when I told her that, it seemed to give her some kind of relief. It seemed to give her some kind of comfort. I know that it was the smallest thing that I could do, the very least thing that I could do, to at least provide her with some kind of comfort and some kind of relief.
So I wanted today to stand up here, acknowledge her and let her know that I think about her every day, that I hope that the national apology on Monday was also meaningful for her as it was for the thousands of other victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, both institutional and non-institutional and that I hope that, as a small gesture that it is, it goes some way to providing all people who have suffered some comfort that we're listening, that we care for you, that we acknowledge you and that you matter.