During the past month we have watched the Queensland minister for Families Youth and Community Care, Anna Bligh make political mileage out of the “boy in the box story”.
This was the tragic case where a little boy was kept tied up in a cardboard box for three weeks. He suffered 80 cigarette burns to his body, a broken limb, bruising etc. The abuse of this child which was witnessed by his sister [5 yrs] was perpetrated by the mother and her boyfriend over a period of at least 6 months prior to their discovery in a caravan park on the Sunshine Coast in late December 1997.
To witness Ms Bligh’s use of this particular case to endorse the enactment of harsh penalties to tighten up the ‘secrecy’ clauses contained in the Children’s Service Act is disappointing. Now anyone found identifying a child or the child’s abuser, if the abuser happens to be a parent of the child will be subject to heavy fines and/or jail.
If the abuser of a child is not a relative he/she can be named.
Unfortunately justice does not flourish when cloaked in secrecy. We believe the Department has sought these changes to prevent exposure of their own mistakes and to prevent investigation into the problems that have been uncovered by groups like ours. The Department would not be keen to see an investigation exposing their incompetency, in certain cases, that resulted in a tightening of controls governing their own accountability.
When Anna Bligh was in opposition, she appeared eager to expose the errors of the government, particularly whether this child had been treated by the Nambour hospital 3 weeks prior to his discovery in the caravan. In a conversation with Anna Bligh when we discussed the hospital document that showed the child had been treated in the hospital for dehydration on the 5/12/97 and 7/12/97 she assured me her contacts had verified the authenticity of the document and that the information contained therein was accurate.
The Coalition Government denied the child had been treated in the hospital previously by producing a doctor from the hospital, who admitted he’d made a mistake on the date. However, the government did not produce the second doctor who made the second entry. Nor did they produce the nurse who witnessed the entries. If the dates were incorrect, we’d like to know why the record sheet did not show the treatment for dehydration that the child received on his admittance to hospital on and subsequent to the 28th December 1997. If their claims about the dates are correct then it means the child did not received any intravenous treatment for dehydration until the 5th of January 1998. Yet he would have been severely dehydrated having spent the previous three weeks locked in a wardrobe, drinking his own urine.
The then Minister of Housing, Dr. David Watson denied in writing that his department had had any contact with the mother when she was seeking emergency accommodation. Yet, we have telephone records showing the mother contacted the Maroochydore offices repeatedly during a seven day period at the beginning of December. A member of the Housing Minister’s staff had previously admitted to contact with the mother.
Without the help of the media we can almost certainly say, the father and grandmother would not have got their children back, because of basic errors made by departmental staff and the now almost, automatic-assumption, in many cases, that the father must have been the abuser. The department believed the mother’s story that she was fleeing a violent husband.
Meanwhile, the father, several thousand miles away at the time of the abuse, was anxiously seeking assistance and news from the authorities whether his children were safe. A South Australian government employee had told the father “Don’t worry, your children will be safe. They are with their mother!”
Because Family services personnel have become so indoctrinated with the ideology that dictates “women do no wrong and if they do we’ll find reasons to excuse them” they and the police allowed the mother to remain alone with her son on the first night at the hospital.
The authorities failed to advise the family in Adelaide – the father heard his children had been found courtesy of the television news! Three police officers met the father at the airport and accompanied him to the hospital to gauge his son’s reaction to seeing him. The family services department only applied to the court for a “care and protection” order when they realised the father was coming to recover his children. The little boy’s sister, who was only 2 years older, was denied good access to her father and grandmother when they arrived in Queensland. She was kept in foster care, with threats being made by the foster carers that if a scene was made she would not be allowed to see her family.
The government refused to move the family to Brisbane where it would have been possible for them to stay together in accommodation like the Ronald McDonald House, whilst the little boy recovered from his injuries in the Brisbane children’s hospital.
The government department[s] involved in this case may very well have been able to prevent the last three weeks and the worst of the abuse if they had not blindly followed the typical, though incorrect belief, that all women are innocent victims and incapable of abuse.
If they would just acknowledge they are not perfect, then perhaps they would learn from their mistakes to prevent other children being abused so badly. Instead they are seeking legislation that prevents exposure!
Secrecy is a double-edged sword that may in fact cause more harm than good.
When the father spoke about the treatment his children had received at the hands of their mother and her boyfriend, he was horrified. Devastated by the helplessness he felt in the hands of the system. He was understandably ‘outraged’ and as time went on it was helpful to him and his family that the general public shared the ‘outrage’. The public sympathy generated by the story was enormous, as was the public disgust that these children should have been exposed to such abuse. The depth of the outrage was illustrated in the response of the public to the call for donations. Teddy bears in all shapes and sizes began arriving at the hospital along with other toys and money. Three pallets of toys were donated.
During this current debate to announce the new changes to the ‘secrecy’ penalties, a letter from Jane Andersen, the executive director of the Abuse Child Trust was published in the Courier Mail. She expounds the view that ….
“Thank goodness for the “boy in the box” being spared a public reminder of his name. He may be able to go to school without having to endure the stares of his classmates. He may be able to undergo therapy without setback of a public airing of his past. He may be able to face the future with confidence, knowing that his ordeal will not become regular fodder for public fascination. The public does not need to know his name or the names of his perpetrators of his abuse.”
As far as we know Andersen has NEVER had any dealings with the family or the children.
We still have a close, ongoing association with the children, the father and paternal grandmother.
It is interesting to note that the only people to mention “the boy in the box” in the last 18 months have been the minister in her promotion of the Children Services Act and people such as Jane Andersen, Abused Child Trust, when they have been seeking recognition for the Trust.
Does ‘secrecy’ benefit the victim?
The issue has raised some serious aspects about the treatment of abuse victims and whether it is good therapy to cloak the abuse in silence and secrecy.
Believing this to have a negative effect we asked a series of questions of the international community via the Internet.
A woman living in the UK, another Sue, who was a victim of her mother’s violence, responded. She is active in promoting assistance and openness for all abuse victims. She uses a wheelchair having contracted polio as a child. Her life as an abused child lasted for 23 years, before she was able to free herself from her mother’s oppression.
Sue describes herself and others who have been abused as “Children of the Secret”, a term coined by an American legal children’s advocate, Andrew Vachss.
The questions we asked and Sue’s responses follow:
Q. Is secrecy necessary for abused children?
Answer: There’s a wonderful New York Lawyer who is my cyber hero. His only clients are abused children – he really knows. I found an article of his on emotional abuse ‘You Carry The Cure In Your Own Heart’ I also found one he’d written that made me cry so much I only wish every child who’d been abused by a family member could be told it – It was an interview he did with Oprah Winfrey – For those fortunate enough not to know what I’m talking about I am glad – for we in the know, or ‘Children Of the Secret, as Andrew Vachss, calls us – those who preach ‘forgiveness, and other such sentimental clap-trap only keep us in the darkness of our hellhole.
For many years I struggled with ‘Honour thy father and mother’ How? How do you love, honour and or respect such evil? How? I don’t for one minute feel God requires it – but ‘humans’ certainly do. I get asked….. “She’s your own mother, how can you not want to have contact?” She’s old now, she might need you?” “How can you be so hard hearted?”
In other words **I’m** the bad one – I’m the nasty cruel one – my abuser was right, I’m not a good person!!!
Folk like Oprah make it hard for we ‘Children of the Secret’ – COS – we’re told by our abuser no one loves us, will believe us, or help us, then this stupid woman comes into one’s home, on one’s TV in her sentimental stupid way, telling you ‘if you don’t forgive you’ll never heal’ Forgive? How?
No one is punished, serves time or even probation – they never apologise, hardly ever admit it. How do you forgive someone who has made your life a hell and likely would call you a liar if you even try to bring up the past – so now, you already knew people don’t care – this Oprah woman and folk like her tell you God won’t love you either until you ‘forgive’
But, Mr Vachss, tells it like it is – they don’t deserve your forgiveness – like love and respect too – It was the first time in my whole life I stopped feeling so guilty. He inspired and empowered me, like with the wonderful Senator Anne Cools, and Erin Pizzey,
Another thing he’s said that lets we COS know he understands: Quote: “I have never yet met an abused child (of whatever age) who was not crying to be heard and to be believed, to be validated and (eventually) assured that there was nothing “special” about him or her that brought on the abuse – that the child was simply a “parent’s” (or other predator’s) target of opportunity.”
[Andrew Vachss’s Home Page can be found at
So, though like all politicians, Anna Bligh likely has her own political agenda for preaching as she does, I am enraged by the collusion of, Jane Andersen, the executive director of the Abuse Child Trust. Every COS knows what she says is a LIE.
She says and I quote “Thank goodness for the “boy in the box” being spared a public reminder of his name. He may be able to go to school without having to endure the stares of his classmates. He may be able to undergo therapy without setback of a public airing of his past. He may be able to face the future with confidence, knowing that his ordeal will not become regular fodder for public fascination. The public does not need to know his name or the names of his perpetrators of his abuse.”
YES BUT!!! The child needs it. The child NEEDS to know what happened to him or her is A Crime!
All we COS want, is to be believed, not to have to feel ashamed nor to grow up thinking it was our fault, or that we caused our abuse, or worse, deserved it. Children read the papers, and watch TV – How the heck do these folk think it feels to see ‘little Johnny or Jennifer’, was hurt by the milkman, the butcher the baker or candlestick-maker, and they got one, five, ten, or hopefully 100 years in prison for their crimes – But you are told, “Well, it was your mother or Dad, so you don’t deserve justice” – you have to live in secret – you have to lie to everyone about why you don’t live at home any more (that’s if anything is done to help you) or lie about how your eye is black, or your head bleeding – etc.
That little boy should be able to say, “I’m living with my Dad or Grandparents because they love me, when I lived with my mother she and her boyfriend hurt me, they were cruel and nasty and now they are in jail where they’ll never hurt anyone again”
Where’s the shame in that? To me that would feel empowering – the abuse is over forever…
I’m sorry for writing so much, but I was so angry – that’s another good thing I learned from Mr Vachss. I have the RIGHT to be angry – so long as my anger is not turned in on myself (as some poor victims tend to do)
But we COS suffered a great injustice – we NEED to get angry – we NEED to stop colluding with the abusers and open the light of justice into their dirty little secrets – we need to get it stopped.
Q. Surely this type of publicity by Bligh and Andersen is far worse than the public acknowledgement of harm done and assistance given at the time of discovery of the offences.
Answer: Agreed. It does nothing but advance their own causes – has absolutely no justification whatsoever.
Q. Does creating a blanket ban on publication allow for internal abuses of the system, that is supposedly protecting children and families, to flourish unchecked by making public accountability impossible.
Answer: Yes. Whoever it might help (the abuser?) it will not help ONE abused child
Q. Is it possible that children who become aware of the “need to suppress their name” and the details of the abuse would become ashamed of the abuse, which would further add to feeling they may already have, that it may have been their fault.
Answer: Oh yes.. That’s exactly what we COS are fighting to stop. It’s heartbreaking to hear children try to ‘excuse’ their abuse. It’s hard to listen to them making excuses. Abuse is a crime – like robbing a bank, murder, defrauding the government – why them is it not treated as one. This injustice actually causes a child to take on the blame for the abuse on him or herself.
Q. It is well known that many abusers instil in their victims the need for secrecy. Would it not be more helpful to the child for him/her to feel free of the need for secrecy?
Q. If the child’s story comes into the public domain are people such as Bligh and Andersen not forecasting an unnecessarily negative response from other children. My own thoughts are that most children are not evil and will, if they know someone is hurting, respond with sympathy, care and protection.
Answer: Well, to be honest, after being through the torture of child abuse, I’m not sure the stupid words of any kid would make any difference – If a child had been believed, and validated. If he/she had seen their abuser go to jail or punished in some way, if the abuse was really stopped and the child allowed to live in the daylight of truth instead of the nightmare of shame and silence – I truly doubt they’d really care.
The worst thing was going to school and not being able to say what you got for your birthday or for Christmas. Not being able to invite your friends home for tea, so you could not accept their invitations either. Or having to pretend you didn’t like the latest pop star because you never could listen to the radio nor buy any records – the list is endless. If you didn’t have to lie any more about all those things, the stupid taunts of a few nasty kids wouldn’t have bothered many of us, I know.
Q. I mentioned before the father’s/grandmother’s outrage and helplessness and I know the public show of outrage helped them come to terms with what had happened. The public shared their anger, so they were able to leave that part to the authorities.
However, the true story that he was wrongly regarded as the abuser in the first place was never told and probably will never be told now. Comments?
Answer: Yes, sadly, the myth is alive and well, ‘only men abuse’ Mothers are saintly folk who’d never even raise their voice in anger, let alone their tiny hand – Yeah, Right!! Unfortunately the father is a victim of political correctness – protect the woman at any and all costs.
Q. Of recent times as more and more childhood abuse cases are exposed, especially in institutionalised care, we are seeing adults relieving themselves of many years of torment by being able to talk about the abuse they suffered.
Do we not risk placing today’s abused children in a similar situation by denying them the opportunity to come to terms with and overcome their abuse in an open forum without the need for secrecy?
Answer: Yes it does mean exactly that. Children are being told loud and clear – pray that if you’re gonna be abused it’s by a stranger or a male relative – that’s your only hope of justice.
Q. It does not seem right to me that we consign them to ignominy to protect a system that fails them.
Answer: It is not right. It’s downright immoral.
Sue’s Story: An Unedited Version
Date: Saturday, 26 February 2000 3:50
I guess my area of ‘expertise’ is that I am an adult ‘transcender’ (hate the term survivor) of the injustices you are fighting.
I know first hand how PAS and (my favourite) ‘Malicious Mother Syndrome’ felt. I saw the way it affected my sisters, and consequently how their abuses had repercussions for the next generation in my nieces and nephews.
My concern now is for the children – I know how it felt not to be able to have contact with my Dad – I remember how it felt when Birthday and Christmas cards and gifts had arrived and we were made to ‘take the f**king things back and don’t come home until you have’ – I know how it felt to see our mother’s smug expression when we received neither a card nor a gift from our Dad – But had to listen to her hate filled comments that it proved our (always called ‘f**king ba*tard..) father didn’t care about us.
But I also remember when we were older sneaking to meet him and he signing our birthday cards ‘from your special friend’.
I remember having to pretend we’d not heard our Dad or Gran and Grandad call us if they saw us on the street, because we’d had it screamed and hit into us that if she found out we’d spoken to or had contact with the f**king bas*ards she’d kill us.
I remember how loving, the only love we ever knew, our Dad was – I remember how he always remembered my favourite pop singer – I remember he always made our favourite breakfast – I remember one day, when we were young him coming into the kitchen after she’d taken their meal in to the living room (meat, potatoes, veg) I remembered he’d cried and thrown his dinner on the floor, told her to get to the shops and buy us some food – I can only imagine how it must have felt for him to see his four little girls eating bread with sugar on.
I remember how when she left us we were so happy, though we didn’t understand why our Dad always cried – she’d taken nearly everything even the lightbulbs out of their sockets.
I remember our Dad used to shout “Quick kids, it’s cartoon time!” and he’d laugh even more than we did – I remember how he made everything feel exciting.
But it didn’t last – she wanted ‘HER HOUSE’ Mothers always get the kids – he had to go – it was like a death sentence.
I remember praying she would die – I remember asking God ‘Please, let me walk for just a few minutes so I can get upstairs and kill her – I remember always thanking Him that I’d caught polio – I had thought it was His way of trying to help me escape her violence and hate.
I remember my sisters were jealous of me – why couldn’t they have caught polio so they could go to hospital and ‘special school’ too.
I remember stealing a loaf of bread with my youngest sister – we were so hungry.
I remember how ‘she’d’ tell us ‘Here’s ten shillings – don’t come back til 10pm’ because our family were coming to visit and it didn’t matter what the weather was like.
I remember my sisters running away time and again, but always being brought back then getting a beating after the policeman left.
I remember having to watch my sisters getting beaten and kicked and told if I didn’t stop snivelling I’d get the same – I remember getting hit because a friend phoned to see how I was.
I remember praying the ringing phone would never be for me although social services provided it free for me to use.
But worse than all that I remember my niece coming to me a couple of years ago and saying ‘Auntie Sue, if you don’t help me ‘run away’ I’ll have to kill myself”. The very words I’d told my Gran over twenty years before. I remember my niece asking me ‘Did my daddy love me’ It broke my heart – I was able to tell her I KNEW he had loved her. I knew he had tried to see her – I told her that sometimes a parent realises that keep trying to see the children they love only makes it harder for the child – I told her Dad was trying to protect her by not making her ‘mother’ angry – I could think of no words when she said ‘If it was my Daddy hurting me someone would have saved me wouldn’t they’
It HAS to stop!
Child abuse, and parental abuse are not ‘in the best interest of the child’ – When mothers abuse, children have nowhere to go – because no one believes them.
I don’t ever want to see another child suffer as we did. I don’t ever want to see a man (or woman) broken, crying, hurt, when his children are so scared they pretend they didn’t hear him call their name. I don’t ever again want another child to be so happy they are disabled – feel lucky – even though they never walked – because it got them away from home.
We were lucky in that we knew our Dad loved us – we were older when she got rid of him. No matter what evil lies she told we knew it was lies.
I never want to hear of any child having to ask the question my niece asked me ‘Did my Daddy love me?’
No matter how ‘good’ or ‘kind’ a custodial parent is – if she or he makes a child feel their other parent does not love them – That is a most horrific form of child abuse. No matter how many kicks or thumps black eyes or broken bones one suffered, no matter how scared you were at the time, nor how much they hurt – those pains will one day heal – what does not heal, what scars your soul and stays in your heart forever is thinking you are unloved – that is one of the scars that lives with you the rest of your life.
I will work with anyone who is genuinely seeking to end such atrocities. I will work with anyone who wants all children to have the knowledge that no matter if mum and dad can’t live together any more, they both still love the child and will never ever stop loving them nor stop having them involved in their new lives.
I will work with anyone who wants to ensure no child will ever again wish their abuser was male so they could have been helped.
I will work with anyone who wants to ensure that in the future no one else has to write the message I’ve just had to write : Sue – UK
Does anyone have any thoughts on this subject? Please contact us with any information on studies, about the effect of ‘publication’ or ‘secrecy’ on these children and their families. We’d like to hear the opinions of others who have survived childhood abuse.
Men’s Rights Agency