(Content note: child abuse, minimisation of violence against children)
The question of public apologies by governments for the wrongs of the past is always contentious. I like to think of it as a subconscious acknowledgement by the people in positions of privilege that if they really had to offer heartfelt remorse for all the sins of their cultural past, they’d literally never be able to stop.
But in this case – a report detailing decades of systemic, horrific abuse of children in state care – there’s definitely one thing Social Development Minister Anne Tolley should be apologising for: her own, personal, deliberate minimisation of what survivors went through.
See, here’s what the report found:
The report finds as many boys as girls suffered sexual abuse. In boys’ homes, cell-like units were often used for prolonged isolation, while in girls’ homes, “assumptions were made of promiscuity”.
In foster care situations, the panel describes stories of mothers who were “street angels, house devils”.
“There was often violence by the foster parents, beatings and housework and kitchen tasks, and verbal abuse. Lack of affection was almost standard,” the report says.
“We heard many accounts of foster fathers who came in the child’s bedroom at night to abuse that child, even when the bedroom was shared by other children.”
And here’s what Anne Tolley has to say about that:
asked if the Government would apologise to the children of these institutions, she said: “No”.
“But I do acknowledge that some people in the care of government institutions were failed and let down badly, and that they still suffer the trauma from that experience.”
“Failed and let down” is one hell of a cold way to describe sexual abuse, solitary confinement and beatings.
If Anne Tolley won’t apologise on behalf of the government of New Zealand for decades of child abuse, she should definitely apologise for being utterly incapable of human empathy.