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Royal Commission Reaches 500 Survivor Private Sessions Milestone

The Abuse in Care Royal Commission has held its 500th private session with a survivor of abuse and/or neglect in the care of the State or a faith-based institution.

Commissioners have been travelling across New Zealand to meet individually with survivors to privately hear their accounts of abuse when they were in care between 1950-99 and later. Because of restrictions on face-to-face sessions during lockdown, Zoom private sessions are also now offered, as well as the option of providing a written account. Literacy support and legal assistance is available if needed.

Survivors have described abuse in many different settings including foster homes, borstals, health and educational institutions, religious and State schools or while they were in pastoral care.

Inquiry Chair Coral Shaw said it is a privilege to hear from those who choose to come forward to share their often-painful experiences.

“My fellow Commissioners and I have listened to many people willing to tell of abuse and neglect they suffered while they were in care and continue to do so. Survivors are also telling us about the lifetime and intergenerational effects of abuse on them and their families.

“These accounts are being used by the Inquiry to build a picture of the way children, young people and vulnerable adults in care have been treated by those who were responsible for them.

“We currently have about 1700 people registered to speak with us and we expect to hear from many more over the course of the Inquiry. We encourage survivors to call us on 0800 222 727 to find out how they can participate,” said Shaw.

Messages to Aotearoa New Zealand:

After a private session, an attendee is offered the chance to pen a ‘Message to Aotearoa New Zealand’. Many take up this opportunity and some of these anonymised messaged are shared here [TRIGGER WARNING: CONFRONTING CONTENT]:

“…Please listen to survivors, even when it hurts. The most vulnerable members of your communities need you to listen, to care and to help. If good people are courageous, we can stop abuse.”

“…My message to NZ started when I was 6 years old until I was 12. It started me sitting on his knee, saying put your hand in my pocket something there for you. Later it progressed…I wasn’t believed in court and was perceived a liar in the papers. I have met lovely people now. It’s taken 50 years but I’m still here after some suicide attempts. You will make it with the right people behind you. Trust in yourself.”

“We believe with all our hearts and minds, that all systems need to be stripped all the way down to nothing. Just like a victim has had to do. And then rebuild from scratch, just like a victim has to do.”

“I was a ward of the state from 1953-1959 I was 6 years old when taken into care. During this time, I attended 9 schools. Had 8 sets of foster parents and lived in a children’s home 3 times. All this and no fault of my own. I was physically – mentally and sexually abused. Unwanted and unloved the scars remain today…. How could this happen? It was going on here in this country and those in authority just looked the other way. Don’t do it ever again or the children will look back on their lives and remember only sadness - like me.”

“It seems that “abuse” and “care” don’t fit together. Yet, here we are. I ask that everyone in New Zealand open their hearts to the voices and [illegible] of those who share. Realise that our voices are valid, real and raw. We are sharing our valid experiences. My plea is that our experiences be validated and listened to. When we do that, we can honour the experience and soon alleviate this pain.”

“I am the child, you the adult should know I am fed adequately I have clean day clothes. I have a warm safe bed. I am no one’s slave or servant. I do not owe anyone. My bath time is mine and free from examination. I do not have to [illegible] every adult, nor to kiss every adult not to sit on every adult’s knee. My body is mine, it belongs to me. I am not a victim, it is/was not my fault. You are the adult, you need to help. You need to own up to take the blame. I, the child, reclaim the power, reclaim the childhood stolen taken without my permission without my consent.”

“Dear New Zealand. It was my pleasure to give evidence to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care, ordered by Jacinda Ardern. I felt well looked after, and at ease. It has been handled very well. I hope our comments show that the MSD handled our cases dismally, with the amounts paid out to us appalling with their reference, to fair and adequate. This should have been decided by an independent body. That the horrific abuse that happened to us victims, late 60s, and the 70s, by the Social Welfare Department, never happen again to children, in our country.”

“From seven to seventy-two: I stood to read my story before the class on the mat. While my new teacher sat beside me at his desk. A man who should have been my guide. But instead put his hands into my pants. And carried out further acts behind the blackboard. He took from me sweet memories of learning and turned them to fear. He embedded in my mind that I would fail at the height of achievement. He embedded in my emotions that I was a victim waiting for abuse. And he stole from me the sense of trust in teachers. So that I did not attempt university until I was forty-seven. The repeated violations did not just take my childhood. They created a battle within my psyche to give myself value. I may be seventy-two years old but in some ways I’m still seven. But now I have told the Royal Commission all that he did. I have released the loneliness of my internal grief. I discovered years later there had been a trial. Where my teacher was accused of violating several girls in my class. And he had been acquitted by an all-male jury. But he had threatened to kill my mother and me. And left me too frightened to tell. Now I’ve told my story before the Commissioner. Felt some of the life-long burden flow out with my tears. I am no longer hidden inside my trauma. I have taken the first steps towards healing. The mental and emotional pain of sexual abuse. And am seeking consolation through counselling.”

“Do you remember that abused, scared, frightened little boy? No? nor do I. Because I am no longer that abused, scared and frightened little boy. That fear now belongs to those that committed the abuse and to those that scared and frightened that little boy. I am strong now, no longer standing in the shadows. It is you who need to be scared and to be afraid. Scared of the truth of your actions and of your deeds. The scars of my abuse are fading, slowly, but they are fading. I will always carry those scars, they have become my strength, but the fear, it is no longer mine. My scars are being transformed into strength, hope, love, friendship, life. Because I am now strong, stronger than you will ever realise. Because now I have hope, hope for a better life and a future. Because now I am learning to love again, where there once was only confusion and pain. Because friendship is the beginning to understanding love. Because life is for living in the here and the now. I am no longer bound by the confines of my abuse and choose to grasp the freedom and move away. Most importantly, I have time. Time to grow, time to hope, time to love, time to live, time to discover who I am meant to be.”

“The fact that someone in a position of power actually listened to me made the big difference. I felt after the meeting that I had been reborn, that I finally had a life. I feel like I have been cleansed. This experience has given me the courage and motivation to get on with my life and take opportunities I have never considered. I know there will still be some hard times, but I will just look back on this meeting when that is happening, and I believe it will help me through.”

“Me No more.

I was playing by the sea shore when a bad man first took me. I was only four. Yeah, I was only four and I was me no more. I am me no more

For my own sake I’m many years late remembering the first night they took away my ability to fight. Thy drugged me up and held me down. And they shared me all around. They violated me with violence under a bright light and as the camera clicked my mind learned a new trick. It left me there in that room and ran down on the beach outside until it tripped and fell on the rocks in my shell. Now I know there are no rocks on that beach other than those beyond realities reach. Now I can see me form behind the light. I’m cowering in the corner. I’m on the floor and I am me no more. I am me no more.

One boy died inside that night. And I was made. I was made this way. Yeah Lady, I was made this way and now I know. I know I will forever be me no more. I am me no more.

For my own sake I’m many years late remembering the second night they took away my ability to fight. They tied me up and they tied me down and they shared me all around. They then turned me over and they made sure. They made sure I was me no more. I am me no more.

One boy died inside that night. And I was made. I was made this way. Yeah Lady, I was made this way and so now I know. I know I will forever be me no more. I am me no more.

I’ve spent my life trying to understand who the hell I am. But now there’s only one thing I really understand. There’s only one thing I know for sure. I am me no more. I am me no more.”

About the Abuse in Care Inquiry

The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry is investigating the abuse and neglect of children, young people and vulnerable adults in care from 1950 and 1999. It will also consider experiences of abuse or neglect outside these dates. After completing its investigations, it will make recommendations to the Governor General on how New Zealand can better care for children, young people and vulnerable adults.

Upcoming Inquiry public hearings:

1) State Redress public hearing: survivors’ experiences

Monday 21 September to Tuesday 6 October - Auckland

Survivors who have sought redress for abuse suffered in State care will give evidence at this hearing, as will lawyers and others who have dealt with government departments on behalf of claimants. Witnesses will give evidence about civil claims made against the State, and civil litigation in the courts and before the Human Rights Review Tribunal. Read witness summaries and hearing timetable here.

2) State Redress public hearing: Crown response

Monday 19 October to Tuesday 3 November - Auckland

Witnesses for the Crown will describe the policy and operation of redress processes that have been and currently are available, as well as responding to evidence given by survivors, their lawyers and advocates at the first Redress public hearing.

More information on these hearings including how to apply to report.

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