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References for the Devil

When do you draw the line on your personal ethical stand for the protection of children.

On the 23 February of this year, in the Sydney Morning Herald reporter Michael Koziol wrote about the concerning issue regarding Stephen Russell, past Headmaster of St Kevin’s College in Melbourne. Mr Russell had provided a character reference for Peter Kehoe, a coach at St Kevin’s, who was convicted of grooming a 15 year old student at the school. Subsequent to this being known by various parents and students of the school, Mr Russell resigned his position as Headmaster in the light of the anger expressed at the handling of this matter.

Generally speaking, character references are often provided by defendants in all manner of cases, to display the writer’s personal knowledge of someone, and present the view prior to sentencing, that the individual is not all bad, or has shown good character in different circumstances. Character references were also provided in the case before the Court regarding Cardinal George Pell, by such luminaries a past Prime Minister John Howard. Cardinal Pell had been convicted of child sexual offences, (currently on appeal to the High Court, having failed in the Court of Appeal as to that conviction).

The question lies not so much in the practice of such references presented to the Court, but whether or not society views the issue of the wilful abuse of an innocent child simply pre-empts any such redeeming view. Those of us who see this seemingly endless blot on humanity of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse on a day to day basis, would have to say that victimisation of a child is simply beyond redemption. It would appear too that the public outcry on such behaviour also views this as a crossed line in the sand as is the case with St Kevin’s College.

Another question is, when did our society decide that the plight of a child was subordinate to the good name of an Institution that allowed the abuse? Is society now finally opening its’ eyes to the truth and declaring enough is enough, and we need to do the right thing, no matter the consequences.

Disturbingly, the concept of “letters of reference” also have another dynamic, being those written by administrators for staff members terminated for wrongful behaviour. Knowing that a member of staff was reported as showing abusive behaviour towards a child in their care, there have been numerous reported instances where letters of reference were provided to those individuals when asked to leave their employ. With references in hand, the perpetrator would be either referred on to another related institution, or silently let go, to apply to another institution for gainful employment in the care of more children. On they would go to offend again and again. This being the reason why St Kevin’s College has featured prominently in the news.

How many children could have been saved from a lifetime of misery had those in charge had the strength of character to stop the beast in their tracks. The vast majority of the cases we prosecute in matters of Institutional Child Sexual abuse, have one perpetrator and a multiple of victims, year after year. They never stop at one.

The old saying goes; “Bad things happen when good people do nothing”. Our final question is; do good people cease to be good when they turn their backs on the innocent in order to protect themselves or the institutions for which they work.

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