Wow! What a day!
On Friday 3 November 2023, I spent 4 hours in a mediated session with one of the organisations who accepted responsibility for my sexual abuse by my adoptive family. This was enabled as a direct result of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse. My claim took approximately 2 years and on 8 Nov 2022, my claim was accepted by 2 of the 3 institutions that I had nominated: the Lutheran church and the Australian Department of Home Affairs (Immigration). A victim can elect if they wish to have a Direct Personal Response (DPR) or not in which the apology is given to us face to face. I chose to hear their apology directly.
The role of the Lutheran church in my sexual abuse is that they had assessed my adoptive parents and given them permission to adopt a child from overseas. This adoptive family went on to sexually abuse me over many years from as early as 5 years old until I was 14 years old. In August of 2020, I had finally been brave enough to report my multiple abusers to the police.
In April 2023, the police case against my adoptive father ended. He did a deal with the prosecutor in exchange for reduced charges, of which he then went on to plead guilty to only 1 of the 4 charges, that charge was termed indecent assault, the other 3 charges were related to the many instances across various years. He is now on the Sex Offender Registry for the next 8 years. The other males (family / extended family) whom I reported to the police were let off due to being minors at the times of the crimes and due to the difficulty of proving their intent at that age. One of those had already suicided years earlier.
Providing me firstly with financial compensation showed me in action that the Lutheran church took my hurt seriously. Apologising and listening intently to what I needed to say .. wow! If only my adoptive parents had done what I’d asked for years while I had waited and stayed in the relationship, hoping that we’d be able to deal with the past. I had asked numerous times over 2 decades to take us to professional help, to help the family heal. But they never did. My adoptive father apologised a couple of times in letter and in person, but that was it. Towards the end, when I asked for financial compensation he declined stating he “didn’t believe in blood money”. What we ultimately needed was something like this royal commission process that allowed me to be compensated as an action, followed by a process of truly hearing, listening, reflecting, and connecting.
I have given so many talks in my many years of speaking and advocacy, but within the first 5 minutes of meeting with the Bishop in this DPR, I was overcome with emotion. Sitting across from me was the man who represented the Lutheran church in Australia and New Zealand, Bishop Paul Smith. As a victim of sexual abuse from whites males in power, it was a daunting moment to speak up for myself to a man who represented so much. But he patiently waited and then listened as I managed to get myself back together to go through what I’d prepared to talk about.
My purpose for the DPR was to ask the very top level of this institute to understand the deep impact their failings had on my life, long term and to see if they’d be willing to learn from those lessons and not just give me a token apology.
I talked about the relevant parts of my story that related to their ongoing foster care organisation – Lutheran Care. I talked about the impacts of needing thorough assessment of prospective parents, conducting followups, keeping proper records and having processes that ensured they take their responsibilities seriously. We children have to live the lifelong consequences of their assessments of parents, we have no say, we have no ally to turn to should those parents be unsafe. We are so much more at risk as adoptees, at least fostered children get followed up on to check if they are safe.
When Bishop Paul Smith spoke, his apology was genuine, heartfelt and from a place of remorse that his institution had caused so much hurt. It really was healing to hear and see that acknowledgment in person.
Karen, an executive from Lutheran Care Specialist Services was also present. She too offered her apology and all of us together went on to have a wonderful conversation about the many issues I’d raised. The mediator Franca was professional and sensitive, doing a excellent job of leading us through and helping to clarify where needed and to record any outcomes agreed upon. My support person SC was just wonderful. Leading up to the day, she’d been the one guiding me and liaising with the Lutheran church when I got frustrated at the lack of experience and communications. SC has been a guiding light, encouraging me to be true to what I needed. I so appreciated her being there for me through out this process!
I was actually expecting a token apology and had very low expectations of the DPR process but I have been pleasantly surprised with how much it truly helped me heal a huge part of the hurt. I felt seen, heard, validated and recognised for the hurt that had occurred due to the Lutheran negligence to do their role properly and thoroughly as an adoption agency.
The importance of having chosen a male figure to give my apology, is the representation on so many levels of how powerful white men in my life had failed me in so many ways. The most recent being in April this year, when my adoptive father pled guilty. The magistrate at the sentencing probably didn’t know I was on the online portal watching and listening. The language and way in which the magistrate spoke was appalling and another experience of a white man in power minimising my experience and demonstrating more empathy for my adoptive father than for me, the victim. The experience of the sentencing was extremely traumatic, especially to hear my many years of abusive experiences minimised by the magistrate who said my adoptive father “must have suffered a momentary lapse in judgement”! He praised my adoptive father for saving the state money by pleading guilty, he said he’d never seen anyone so remorseful and even questioned the defence attorney as to whether my adoptive father had to be placed on the Sex Offenders Registry.
I’ve not been able to talk about this publicly until now, 7 months later because it traumatised me so much! It was another example of a powerful white man in Australia doing me harm and refusing to recognise the responsibility they hold to treat vulnerable people with dignity and respect. That magistrate in turn reflected my adoptive father who also failed to treat me with dignity and respect in my childhood. Thankfully, Bishop Paul Smith was a different white powerful man who took his role seriously and validated my pain and could hold a lengthy conversation that was meaningful, thoughtful and sensitive to deep trauma.
I also thank the universe I was sent to Australia by that questionable Vietnamese lawyer who facilitated my displacement for if I’d been sent to any other country in the world – I would never have the opportunity to have healing like this. Australia, for all its flaws in royal commission processes and outcomes, the process does actually offer a far better route for victims than the police and criminal route which actually causes further trauma for many and definitely no justice for the victim. My wish is to have a powerful process like the royal commission for us intercountry adoptees, as victims of illegal adoptions! But that is another discussion which I leave for later.
Sharing this hopefully gives you some insight into how powerfully healing the day was. I await the official letter of apology I’ve asked for as a followup. It will be framed as a huge memento signifying how much I’ve lived through, the courage it took to get to that day to face the highest in power in the Lutheran church in Australia, and share my vulnerability hoping that it would be respected, heard, and validated. I have waited a long time to have my day of reckoning and it has been worth all the work and effort!
Thank you Bishop Paul Smith, Karen, Franca, SC, Tim, and Kathy for ensuring my DPR went smoothly and was a success.
I now await to hear from the Australian Department of Home Affairs (Immigration) as to when they will meet with me. It has taken them 6 months to respond to my request. Time will tell when, where and how that will go.