Category: Religion & Values

Royal Commission: abuse victims need to be helped, not just heard

by Michael Salter

There has been a great deal of focus on the role of a Royal Commission in delivering “justice” for victims of sexual abuse. Justice is a powerful, symbolic principle, and being listened to can be a moving and meaningful experience for survivors. My experience interviewing child abuse survivors suggests the opportunity to tell their story in a validating and comfortable environment can have a range of emotional benefits for them.

However, once the drama of the Royal Commission is over, survivors must return to their day-to-day lives. Some recover well, but many continue to experience high rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide. They suffer in silence or are bounced between health and welfare services that are not funded to meet their needs. The worst affected wind up in prison or on the streets.

NSW premier Barry O’Farrell said that sexual abuse has “robbed young children of their futures”. The implication is that the lives of child abuse survivors have been irrevocably compromised and the only substantive action we can take is to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place; once it has happened, it’s too late to do much. This represents the state’s failure to provide adequate health services to child abuse survivors.

Ensuring the quality of life of survivors into the future should be a key focus of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Safety and justice are fundamental human rights, but so are health and wellbeing. The World Health Organisation defines health as an individual and collective “resource for everyday life”. We build and preserve this resource as a community, first by creating healthy environments in which people can live happily and safely, and second by ensuring that care and support are available.

In both regards, Australia has failed child abuse survivors. They grew up in spaces where they were not safe or protected. Many were not provided with the opportunity to disclose what had happened to them, or when they did, they were ignored. Now, as adults, they find themselves unable to access health care that addresses the impact of trauma and abuse on their lives.

As a result, they are often subject to inappropriate, ineffective or even dangerous forms of treatment that compound the harms of abuse. But effective treatment does exist for child abuse survivors. The fact is that successive governments have not invested in them, made them available or provided enough abuse-specific training to the health workforce.

Royal Commissions have the power and scope to address systemic policy issues. The prevention, detection and reporting of child abuse is one such issue. Providing and ensuring access to effective mental health care in the aftermath of abuse is the other side of the coin – and it has long been neglected. Child abuse is at the very centre of the burden of mental illness in the community. Until steps are taken to address the health needs of survivors, this burden will remain, at a significant financial cost to the community, not to mention the personal cost to survivors, their friends and families.

When it comes to child abuse, justice, safety and health are inextricably linked. Children protected from abuse are less vulnerable to mental illness. Where they are abused, early detection and intervention can result in better outcomes for the child, and the identification of offenders and protection of other children.

For those victims enduring the long-term impacts of abuse, however, real justice must deliver more than the symbolic opportunity to attest to their victimisation. It must provide them with access to the care and support that has previously been denied them.

This is one of the main challenges that faces the Royal Commission and, in my view, if this challenge is not addressed then the current rhetoric about justice and safety will remain just that – rhetoric.

Michael Salter is a lecturer in criminology at the University of Western Sydney.

This article was first published at www.theconversation.edu.au

 

Moral compass: is Australia a kind nation?

by Nicholas Hookway

We’re in a state of moral decline in the West – or so we’re told. From sky-rocketing divorce rates and the shrinking of life-long commitments to an excessive concern with self and consumerism.

Morality has been diagnosed and it’s terminal.

But does that mean as a nation Australians are less kind or compassionate than we used to be? What’s at the cause of this moral decline? Or does it even exist?

New research suggests that there’s reason enough to question the conventional wisdom around moral decline.

Shaky premise

In an Australian survey, my colleagues – Daphne Habibis and Anthea Vreugdenhil – and I asked nearly 2,000 respondents how kind they see themselves and others.

We found that 95% of respondents believe that it is quite or very important to be kind to one another; 97% agreed that they see themselves as a kind person; 90% reported performing a kind act at least once a week and 82% say most Australians are quite or very kind.

51% said they were kind because “it’s who I am” while only 12% of respondents said it was because they like to be seen as kind, it may benefit them or that they are required to be kind.

These findings suggest that perhaps the extent and nature of moral decline is not what we thought it was.

Two schools of thought

So where do these ideas about moral decline come from?

There are two schools of thought – the first argues that with the weakening of community, we have become less friendly, kind or giving.

Proponents of this view, like Australian commentators Clive Hamilton and Hugh Mackay, argue that the breakdown of community and rise of the individual have undermined a common moral culture and a shared sense of responsibility toward others. Hamilton for example, suggests that materialism has worn away at everyday virtues of honour, courage or self-sacrifice while Mackay suggests that Australians are now less charitable, more prejudiced and less compassionate, because we’re all less focused on our communities.

But there’s another group of thinkers that don’t blame a decline in morality on the decline of community. Instead they point to the lessening of traditional sources of authority like religion. They also point to the rise of a “therapeutic culture” where we focus on improving ourselves. These thinkers see this as leading to uncaring narcissism, where self-improvement and self-gratification become the ultimate concerns of life.

For example, American thinker Christopher Lasch argues that Western culture is pathologically preoccupied with the care and well-being of the self:

“Having no hope of improving their lives in any of the ways that matter, people have convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly-dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to “relate”, overcoming the “fear of pleasure”.”

Not so simple

Common to both these views, is the understanding that morality has little hope in a culture where strict moral rules are no longer enforced by religion and community. A culture that values emotions and self over rule following and communal values.

But does the alleged damaged moral order just boil down to a weakening of faith, community and tradition? Such perspectives fail to acknowledge the more complex picture of morality. The first view has a romantic image of community, ignoring that communities often silence individual moral responsibility and exclude alternative moral voices.

The second view offers a simplistic view of cultures of therapy and self-fulfilment. They see them as unavoidably self-absorbed, but overlook the morally creative potential of the values of self-development. For example, does turning to “the wisdom of the east” or “eating health food” have to be read as signposts on the way to narcisstic moral impoverishment?

Does the recent growth of Buddhism in Australia, for example, not centre on an ethics of minimising suffering for self and others? Further, why is a better diet simply self-indulgent? Recent research in the area of food and the ethics of consumption shows how the growth of fair-trade and cruelty-free products, the slow food movement, practices of “buycotting” and vegetarianism can engender new modes of ethical citizenship and encourage “politics of the self”.

It seems then the jury is still out on the reasons of moral decline or whether it’s happening in the first place. But perhaps morality is in a better state than we think.

Nicholas Hookway is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Tasmania. His research focuses on how Australians grapple with questions of meaning and morality in contemporary social life. His key research interests are morality and ethics; religion and spirituality and new media and internet technologies.

This article was first published at www.theconversation.com.au

 

 

If Corporations Have Rights Like People, Shouldn’t Animals?

by Sue Russell

In a nation where corporations are people and others want fetuses to be, a core of philosophers and attorneys are trying develop laws to declare animals “legal persons.”

On December 19, 1994, animal protection lawyer Steven Wise — a deeply patient man — was frustrated. A decade into his 25-year plan to upend the fundamental legal principle that animals are property or “things” with no more rights than a table or bicycle, he was barely making a dent.

Wise’s passion for animal rights dates to 1979 when reading philosopher Peter Singer’s landmark book Animal Liberation proved both revelation and rude awakening. “I really felt that I could not really un-ring that bell,” he says. “There was more injustice there to be fought than any I could think of anywhere in the universe.”

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The Rebirth of Social Darwinism

by Robert Reich

What kind of society, exactly, do modern US Republicans want? I’ve been listening to US Republican candidates in an effort to discern an overall philosophy, a broadly-shared vision, an ideal picture of America.

They say they want a smaller government but that can’t be it. Most seek a larger national defense and more muscular homeland security. Almost all want to widen the government’s powers of search and surveillance inside the United States – eradicating possible terrorists, expunging undocumented immigrants, “securing” the nation’s borders. They want stiffer criminal sentences, including broader application of the death penalty. Many also want government to intrude on the most intimate aspects of private life.

They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, laws against child labor, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve.

They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.

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The rise and fall of the ‘free market’

by David Hetherington

Ideas, like fashion, move in waves. A big idea will form, expand, dominate, and fade. Along the way it will accrue adherents and opponents, leaving a trailing wake of subsidiary ideas.

The last century has seen the rise and fall of communism, fascism, and socialism. Democracy has proven more enduring, still expanding if not dominating.

Yet the idea closest to the inflection point between domination and fade is the ‘free market’, the most influential concept in political economy over the past 40 years. Outlined in its modern form by the Austrian school of economists and expanded by Milton Friedman, the free market was the bedrock of the Thatcher/Reagan reforms. It defined the political orthodoxy for both right and left until the financial crash of 2008.

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