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lunedì 22 maggio 2017

Priest charged with sexual abuse of Aboriginal girls

Father Allan Mithen, 78, was recently arrested in Clifton Hill over the sexual abuse that occurred when he served as rector at the Wandering Mission between 1965 and 1969.

A retired Catholic priest from Melbourne has been charged with the sexual assault of four Aboriginal girls at a West Australian orphanage more than 50 years ago.
Father Allan Mithen, 78, was recently arrested in Clifton Hill over the sexual abuse that occurred when he served as rector at the Wandering Mission between 1965 and 1969.
A member of the Pallottine order, Father Mithen worked as a priest at several Melbourne parishes until his retirement in 2014. 
Some former parishioners were informed at mass last weekend that Father Mithen will face more than a dozen serious charges when he appears before the Perth Magistrates Court next month, via video link.
Father Eugene San, head of the Pallottine order in Australia, did not respond to requests for comment from Fairfax Media on Monday.
Father Mithen is understood to have spent more than a decade at the Wandering Mission, about 120 kilometres south-east of Perth.
In 1974, Father Mithen was appointed as chaplain to the Aboriginal people of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, before returning to Melbourne.


The deep silence that has hung for 50 years over Western Australia’s now-crumbling and derelict missions ended in two short police statements.
The WA child abuse squad announced it had charged two men with a string of sex offences dating back to their duties, as Catholic priest and former teacher respectively, at the isolated Wandering Mission. The charges include rape and indecent assault of several girls aged between eight and 15.
A day later, another media release: a second teacher was charged with sexually abusing five girls aged nine to 13 across a period that began when he was at Wandering Mission in 1959 and continued until 2003.
Although a court will have to determine guilt or innocence, three old men — retired priest Allan Mithen, 78, teachers Michael Moran, 82, and Keith Chesson, 83, all non-Aboriginal — face charges dating back more than 50 years. This hints at the stifling silence that has long enveloped 50 or more Aboriginal missions and children’s homes that once oper­ated across the state.
Until now, few charges have been laid despite rumours whispered down the ages, and articulated in the past two years by some victims to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
This week’s charges are the first laid in relation to what went on in the dormitories and classrooms of Wandering Mission. Yet the royal commission already has exposed the fact New Norcia, another Catholic mission less than two hours’ drive north, was one of the worst institutions in the nation for child sex offenders, reporting 65 claims that resulted in payments to victims of $869,000.
On a list of church institutions with the most reports of child sex abuse from 1980 to 2015, three out of the four top institutions — all of them run by the Christian Brothers — were in WA.
Brothers Lester and Paul Parfitt have vivid memories of how cold they felt as children at Wandering Mission; tucked away in the hilly scarp south of Perth, it records some of the lowest temperatures in the southwest.
They also remember how the Pallottine-run mission was nestled in beautiful wildflower and eucalypt forest. But it was a world away from the country town where they’d lived with their extended family until a vehicle pulled up in the mid-1950s and picked up six-year-old Lester, four-year-old Paul, their younger brother and older sister.
“This big white truck pulled up and someone said, ‘Your parents don’t want you any more,’ ” Lester Parfitt recalls. “It’s hard to describe the loneliness, the heartache.”
“It broke my family up,” says Paul Parfitt, who says at least he was allowed to stay close to his sister as an infant, while Lester was segregated in the boys’ dormitory. The siblings’ only real contact was on the sports field.
“You grow up with no love but a kid expects the unconditional love of your mum and dad,” Paul Parfitt says. “So when we grew up, we didn’t know how to be fathers, real family men.”
Two of the state’s most notorious pedophiles, both still in jail, spent time as children at Wandering Mission, which closed in 1979.
Neither of the Parfitt brothers will talk about their experience of abuse except to comment on the extreme severity of the nuns and priests towards the children.
Those German priests brought a second world war attitude to Wandering,” Lester Parfitt says. “If you didn’t do as you were told, you got a flogging.” When he was seven a priest flogged him with electrical cord, “but I wouldn’t cry”. As for the schooling they received, “It was all about how to be a good Catholic and less about maths and English.”
The men got $45,000 each under the WA government’s Redress scheme but it hasn’t gone far. “We thought of it as ‘shut up’ money,” says Lester Parfitt, who last year gave evidence to the royal commission into child abuse.
In this week’s federal budget, the government has allocated $33.4 million in 2017-18 to establish a commonwealth redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
Tony Hansen, 49, was removed in 1970 with his siblings to Marribank Mission, near Katanning, the same place where the mother of Lester and Paul Parfitt was placed as a child. Hansen stayed there for 15 years: “We were the last of the mission kids.
“When we got on the bus we’d fight to get near the window because that was a way we could shout out to our families as we travelled through town. We knew they weren’t allowed to come into the school grounds.”
So now that individuals are being charged, is there a sense of relief? “I feel satisfaction, I suppose, because that’s what survivors will feel,” says Jim Morrison, co-convener of the Bringing Them Home organisation for children removed from their families. “But it certainly doesn’t surprise me.”
Morrison’s mother and grandmother were removed and sent to Carrolup native welfare settlement, later renamed Marribank. He suspects any one of the 50 institutions where Aboriginal wards of the state were placed could one day rival New Norcia because many victims have not yet spoken.
“I had to ring around people when the Wandering charges were made public,” he tells The Weekend Australian.
“And when I told them, some people I rang divulged to me things that happened, that they’ve never talked about, at Wandering, and when foster families took them away for weekends. It’s never been heard before.”
Morrison knows of only one other case so far of a person charged after Taskforce Tonalite, established within the WA Child Abuse Squad, began to investigate abuse claims arising from the royal commission. But the charges were dropped, to the horror of two women who had given evidence. The royal commission says it has made 198 referrals to WA authorities for further investigation, and 14 prosecutions have begun. But WA police have a hard job investigating cases that occurred to children a half-century ago.
And Wandering is typical of many places that shaped the lives of thousands of Aboriginal children in WA — few photographs, little documentation, lost files.
Sexual abuse was part of the story of Aboriginal child removal,” says indigenous lawyer Hannah McGlade, a senior research fellow at Curtin University.
It was the state and these religious institutions that did it, and they all need to be accountable. At the Bringing Them Home inquiry 20 years ago, people couldn’t talk easily about sexual abuse. But it was widespread.”
This month’s National Sorry Day, May 26, will mark the 20th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report. It emerged from Australia’s first thorough attempt to tackle the Stolen Generations issue, through the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children From Their Families. But McGlade says there remains little understanding of the enduring legacy of abuse in WA.
This is not ancient forgotten history,” she says. “It impacts people even of my own generation.
And, she could add, incumbent federal Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt. A Nyoongar man, Wyatt was born at Roelands Mission, near Bunbury south of Perth; his mother had been removed as a child and raised there.
Wyatt has described the pain of reading his mother’s native welfare file that showed how every request, for money or holidays or even marriage, had to be vetted by AO Neville, the state’s infamous Chief Protector of Aborigines — depicted in the 2002 film Rabbit=Proof Fence — and his successors.
In 1937, Neville told a Canberra gathering of federal and state bureaucrats that if “half-caste girls” got pregnant, “the child is then taken away from the mother and sometimes never sees her again. Thus these children grow up as whites, knowing nothing of their own environment.”
The loss of that “environment” led to many children being abused and families falling apart, says Daydawn Advocacy Centre in Perth. In its submission to the royal commission, it noted that “Daydawn has hundreds of files on clients who are homeless and many of these would have experienced childhood sexual abuse and/or trauma. The intergenerational effects of childhood sexual abuse in the Aboriginal and in particular the Nyoongar community of WA has not been fully appreciated until now.”
Daydawn has assisted 170 Aboriginal clients to approach or prepare statements for the royal commission.
The largest survey undertaken of Aboriginal children’s welfare, conducted by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in 2004, made startling findings about children in Stolen Generations-affected families.
“We found that they were more vulnerable and their stress measures far higher than other children,” says survey chairman and Curtin University associate professor Ted Wilkes. And the trauma had filtered down through at least three generations.
Most of the suicides in Aboriginal communities have a connection back to child abuse,” he says. “Wandering is just one of many institutions I could label as a nest of pedophilia.”
Aboriginal people say they must now reclaim their own history. Morrison’s own office in a historic city building was the same location from where Neville administered his policy of mass removal of Aboriginal children.
Morrison says he felt physically ill when he first entered the rooms. But in those rooms, Bringing Them Home is drawing up ambi­tious plans to reclaim Wandering Mission, Marribank and other institutions that are boarded up and derelict. They have plans to take over the leases and turn them into “cultural healing centres”.
“I said to the royal commission: ‘Give us back our missions and we’ll take care of our own kids,’ Morrison says. “The authorities have done nothing for 20 years, so we will renovate and apply for funds to turn them back into places of cultural healing.”
Morrison says some Nyoongar people see even abusive places such as Wandering as the only home they ever knew — “a few even want to go back and live there”.
There will be some who never want to return. “I’m one of ‘em,” says Lester Parfitt, now 68. “I don’t ever want to go back.”

Cries and whispers from Wandering Mission finally heard a half-century on May 13, 2017 VICTORIA LAURIE









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