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Big step in the right direction

Prevention expert: Dr Monica Applewhite.

Prevention expert: Dr Monica Applewhite.

By Michael Crutcher

MONICA Applewhite was removing her shoes at an airport security station when she had a thought about changing community attitudes towards sexual abuse.

“Twenty years ago, no one was walking with bare feet through an airport,” Dr Applewhite, an expert in abuse prevention and response, told a gathering in Brisbane recently.

“Now, we all accept it. That’s what happens when you go through airport security.

“That’s because the standard in that area has changed.

“And the standard of care for handling sex abuse is changing too.

“Some things that used to be acceptable behaviour are not acceptable.

“It’s becoming part of the culture now that every single person is accountable.”

Dr Applewhite has returned to Brisbane from her American base to run another series of workshops for the archdiocese.

She is working across the archdiocese, including with parishes and pastoral councils, to reinforce best practice for abuse prevention and response.

“We’re in the infancy of the body of knowledge about sexual offending. We’ve got 60 years’ knowledge,” Dr Applewhite said.

“Do we know it all? No way.

“But people want to create an environment where a generation of children can grow up without sexual abuse.

“We now have enough information to interrupt it before it happens.

“And the rates of sexual abuse are going down. That’s the thread of hope.”

Dr Applewhite’s presentations draw on more than 20 years’ experience, including insights into more than 1800 cases she has analysed.

What should people look out for?

“You must have policies in place. If someone says to you that we don’t have to follow a policy because they have been doing something different for a long time, that’s not a satisfactory answer,” she said.

“The (offenders) are very good at being secretive. We have to remember that people with the worst intentions have the best explanations for what they’re doing.

“I’ve seen cases in which there are hundreds and hundreds of text messages between the adult and the child.

“It’s private. And it’s the way young people communicate. We’re talking about offenders who are unbelievably good at relating to young people.

“But some of the measures now happening in Australia are being looked at internationally as best practice.

“We need a reserve of energy and, if we expend it for good, it can do a lot.”

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge introduced Dr Applewhite in a workshop with senior archdiocesan staff.

“The Catholic Church has done a great deal to come to terms with sexual abuse in a way that helps heal the wounds of the past and ensures that nothing similar happens in the future. But there is absolutely no room for complacency,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“Much has been done but there is still a huge amount to do – not just in revising protocols and procedures and putting new ones in place, but also in changing the culture and the attitudes that culture produces, which is much harder.

“Monica Applewhite was a great help to us in this when she first visited Brisbane, and we’ve invited her back this time to help us take a new step in the right direction.

“One thing Monica makes clear is that sexual abuse concerns not just some in the Church but everyone.

“Just as it effects everyone, so too everyone has to be part of dealing effectively with abuse and leading survivors, their families and the whole Church into a better future.

“That’s why Monica will be talking to as many people as possible in her time with us in Brisbane.

“We look forward to welcoming her back as a real companion on the journey.”

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