In June this year, a toddler died after receiving a fatal blow to the abdomen which left him in agony over several days in his home. Mason Lee was only 21 months old when his severely bruised and battered body was found lifeless on the floor, full of broken bones, ruptured organs and leaked faecal matter. His mother’s boyfriend allegedly inflicted the fatal blow.
Earlier that month, CCTV recorded Mason and his step father walking out of McDonalds. In the recording Mason’s step father could be heard yelling at Mason: “Come on c***t you walk like a spastic.” “Hurry up and grab your f***king bottle. Mason, get here if you want your f***king bottle.”
This horrific death hits powerfully at my heart even after 44 years of doing this. I want to scream at political leaders and government staff and tell them that they have led us down this path. I went to war a long time ago predicting the failure of the system.
Reports of child abuse are overwhelming and give witness to the gross negligence on full display at child protection services across the country and staff that continually fail young people like Mason.
Governments like to say they are tough on crime, but what about the victims of crime? There is never any mention of rehabilitation for the victims of crime; our system doesn’t give them a voice. How do we ensure that they won’t continue the cycle of violence and abuse? Currently, we have a Minister of Correctional Service (Minister Elliot) who prides himself on investing another $3.8b into building more jails. Meanwhile there is a shortage of teachers across NSW prisons as 100 teachers are sacked, leaving only around 20 teachers to cater to the growing prison population – nowhere near enough to rehabilitate those that need it.
Hunting down predators is so important, but the victim never has a voice.
Is a monster born or is a monster created?
So often, we focus on punishing the perpetrator and forget the long term effects that the abuse has on the victims. We allow victims of abuse to wallow in their pain without intervention. As a result, a monster appears to devolve in an attempt to deal with the disaffection and lashes out at a society who has abandoned them.
We need to look into the rear mirror to see the carnage left behind as the victims are left to negotiate the world by themselves. And by the time they reach 16 years of age we condemn their actions without understanding why they are acting out.
I’m now remembering Allan, a student of mine, who entered my class for the first time as a 14 year old child and when directed to prepare for a spelling lesson, he reacted in an explosive display of anger and intimidation. Although he was only young he was already over 6 foot tall, and knew how to use his size to intimidate and manipulate others. How could a child this young react so aggressively and how could he be so adept at threatening and verbal violence?
It took me only minutes with his file to decipher the driving force for this violent outburst. For 5 years Allan was the victim of relentless abuse and torture at the hands of his father, a man who imposed fear on his son and all other family members. The man, who was supposed to protect and nurture him failed him as a carer. It took Allan 6 years before he would talk about this, and I ask where was the government and the legal system? Why didn’t they support this young victim? In these 6 years, Allan was shuffled in and out of 38 different home placements, he lacked the stability of a home life and his act of aggression in the classroom was a test to see if I would fail him by moving him again, but I made a promise to work with him to get him the help he was deprived of.
I pulled together a team with one of my highly skilled youth workers who pushed through Allan’s challenging verbal and physical threats to help him unload his pain. Within days of starting casework, Allan was back in class and responding positively. Through our support, Allan achieved his year 10 certificate, found an apprenticeship which led to a job and now has his own family. Through uncovering the carnage of history we gave him the opportunity to address it and break the cycle of abuse.
Unfortunately not everyone is given the opportunity to address their abuse, a pain which builds up inside and is often released in a rage fuelled by systematic torture.
When making decisions about our troubled kids the evidence and research available indicates that the solutions is certainly not incarceration. On the surface level it may appear that locking up perpetrators will keep communities safe but incarceration exacerbates violence, and violent behaviour is the normal response to abuse.
Minister Elliott should also become the Minister for Mental Health because he is housing a large number of people with mental health issues. We have a Minister who refuses to provide rehabilitation for the troubled, broken and most vulnerable in our community and Pru Goward as Minister of Mental Health has no idea in relation to the mentally ill. Under her watch how many new, suitable facilities have been opened for the mentally ill?
One of the most important insights we have into the soul of abused kids relates to what we call the lack of attachment disorder which monitors a baby’s experience in their first six months. When babies return home after birth, they try to connect with whoever bends over their cot with smiles, hand gestures, etc. They strive to connect for the first six months but if they get no response the baby shuts down and realises they are on their own. No one to teach them how to solve problems, no map to help them to negotiate the world they live in and do not experience love. They can be described as socio-paths, but it is learnt – not born with – and can be reclaimed with appropriate interventions.
But our politicians commit to rhetoric, slogans and submit to some public outcry. At a time when the most vulnerable in our community don’t have appropriate rehabilitation placements our jails become the largest providers of people with mental health issues and house a mass over-representative of Aboriginal people, and people affected by drug and alcohol abuse disorders.
But evidence based research is unequivocal in condemning prisons as places of rehabilitation. We have become a country built around retribution, punishment and pay back. Don’t get me wrong there are individuals who need to be jailed for life but for young people, every attempt needs to be made to return them to the community rehabilitated. This involves providing them with the appropriate assistance and treatment to ensure that they do not return to previous negative activities.
Even then, the most effective measure is preventing the abuse of vulnerable children before it happens. The first step is for us, as adults, to report the abuse of any young person. Every adult must be responsible for every child to ensure that cases like Mason’s are not repeated.
Who will cry for the little boy?
Who knows well hurt and pain.
Who will cry for the little boy?
He died again and again. (Antwone Fisher).
This poem was sent to me by a friend and when I asked why, she said “You cry for the little children.”
But that is not enough – the Nation must cry for the abused and murdered kids, a cry that calls for justice for our kids. A cry that makes Government’s accountable. A cry that pleas for the victim’s rights for our so called Criminal Justice System gives no voice to the victims.