Girls Homes and Boys Homes (Or: Pick a Bale of Cotton)

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The old Children’s Homes will feature prominently in the Royal Commission. This will be because of two factors. Firstly, due to a myriad of factors, the abuse rate was very high. Secondly, there have already been a few enquiries specifically concerning them. Consequently, there will not be much need to encourage people to put the “Homes” on the agenda.

What will be necessary is increased attention to the Girls’ Homes. It has been a feature of the debate on the Homes issue that most attention has been on the Boys’ Homes. It may well be that there were more victims from the Boys’ Homes than from the Girls’ Homes. However, it is the opinion of this author (whose sister was in the Salvation Army Girls’ Home in Toowoomba for many years) that there are other factors at play.

The most likely one is the difference in where abuses were most likely to occur. With the Boys’ Homes, the abusers usually worked at the Home itself. While there are exceptions, notably “Neerkol” and “Nazareth House” at Wynnum (see previous postings), with regards to the Girls’ Homes, the abusers came from outside the Home itself.

In some cases, for the girls, the abuser was a visiting priest or an outside worker, such as a bus driver. These have tended to be reported because it was still possible to identify the abuser, even if it was somewhat more difficult than identifying direct employees, such as in the Boys’ Homes.

Where the problem of under-reporting is most likely to have occurred, is the situation where girls were sent to places outside the Home. Previous postings have drawn some attention to this case, particularly where girls were sent out as domestic workers. Again, there have been significantly more problems for Indigenous girls who had been placed in the Homes as part of the “Stolen Generation” program in the first half of the twentieth century.

In other cases, the girls were rented out as unpaid workers. At the Toowoomba Salvation Army Girls’ Home, for example, the girls were regularly sent to surrounding farms to pick fruit on the weekends. Similar accounts have been received for many of the Girls’ Homes.

It is here that a real problem arises when attempting to identify abusers. Normally, a girl would be unlikely to know who she was sent to. It is also more likely that a complaint back at the Home would be ignored, because the Home was making money from the girls’ labour.

Another factor mitigating against reporting could be the frequency and duration of abuse. In the Boys’ Homes, the abuse was likely to be frequent and occur over an extended period of time.  In the case of an out-sourced girl, abuse may have occurred on one occasion, only.

That last word, “only”, is not meant to reduce the significance of the event. It is added to the end of the sentence because this may have been how the victim may have seen it. There could have been an attitude that it was better to just forget the incident – the proverbial “get over it “ attitude, especially since identification would be very difficult, and successful prosecution virtually impossible.

So, if these factors are combined, it may well account for the apparently lower frequency of abuse associated with Girls’ Homes.

While it is obviously important for women who fall into this category to be heard at the Royal Commission, there is another factor associated with abuses outside the Home grounds. Today, foster care is the norm rather than institutions. Influences to under-report in this new environment may be similar to those of the out-sourcing of girls from the old Homes. Protocols associated with foster-care are required from institutions conducting the programs.

It is too complex a situation to be fully explored here, but it would be hoped that some others (victims, academics, professionals, women’s rights proponents, etc.)  may be able to give the issue more thought, and possibly make a pertinent submission to the Royal Commission in due course.

Tomorrow: Election time!

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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