Terms of Reference – Types of Abuse – Physical Abuse (Or: Things Aren’t Always Overt)

Nuns or others engaging in physical abuse constitute one of the least reported aspects of church abuse. Those who were in their children’s homes know this very well. At present, it seems that the issue will continue to be under-reported for a long time. That is, if activity does not step up considerably in bringing it to the attention of the general public.

The terms of reference of the Royal Commission do not allow for consideration of physical abuse unless it is directly linked to sexual abuse. Such linkage between physical and sexual abuse was often the case in Salvation Army Boy’s Homes in the period up to about 1980 when most such homes closed down. From a strict viewpoint, it would be difficult to define most forms of sexual abuse as being free of a physical force aspect. Presumably, only ‘consensual’ abuse would meet the requirement of not having a physical abuse component, so that in the vast majority of circumstances this becomes a meaningless distinction introduced by those (unknown) people who actually wrote the terms of reference for the Royal Commission. It smacks of the Peter Hollingworth, discredited, argument that “she was asking for it.”

There will be situations where organisations such as churches will claim that there was no sexual abuse, so that particular examples cannot come before the commission. This is basically a flawed argument in that it does not rule out the possibility that the perpetrator may indeed have gained a sexual thrill from the physical abuse, so that by extension the abuse was formally sexual in nature. Psychologists and psychiatrists should consider this circumstance in their responses.

The author has both heard of, and witnessed, horrific instances of physical abuse. In most cases the child was also naked. No self-respecting therapist would dismiss out of hand any chance of long-term psycho-sexual damage to the victims, and most of the general public would readily come to the conclusion that there was, because of the nakedness, a sexual component to the abuse.

To get the message across will require a conceptual change. Normally, the focus is on the perpetrator being directly sexually gratified. More recent thought has tended to also consider the effect on the victim. For example, the rape victim often has an enduring symptom of future difficulties in relationships.

It is known that some physical symptoms can have different causes. The wise doctor would then order further tests to establish the true cause. In many instances, a therapist can be presented with victim symptoms, but not be able to tell, without further investigation, whether it came from a sexual assault or, for example, a sexual humiliation.

By the same logic, it is incumbent on the commission to investigate cases of physical abuse, that do not have an overt sexual expression, to determine if there were ancillary sexual components and consequences directly following from the initial abuse. It would take too long in this posting to analyse cases brought to the author’s attention, so it will be the basis of a posting some time in the future.

What can be said overall at this stage is that some organisations will attempt to shield the perpetrators of physical abuse against children. The will do this for the same reasons that they shielded the sexual abusers – to minimise damage to their image and to save money on compensation claims. The method they will use is that the matter lies outside the terms of reference. Any organisation attempting this would earn the public’s scorn. Any commissioner who upheld the organisation’s stance, would also, hopefully, feel the effect of public disapproval.

We must not let them get away with this.

TOMORROW: Psychological abuse

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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