Published: 17 October 2016
Author: Kate Malone

Commission criticises so-called therapy

Report on Turana, Baltara and Winlaton released

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released a report detailing its findings from Case Study 30, where three State-run institutions, Turana, Baltara and Winlaton, were investigated. (See our previous blog: Royal Commission releases findings of case study into the responses in State run Institutions).

The Commission was rightly highly critical of many aspects of these institutions. In particular, it was critical of two common forms of 'therapy'; aversion therapy and triad therapy that were forced upon vulnerable State wards.

Electric shock aversion therapy at Turana

The Commission heard evidence from survivor Robert Cummings, who was forced to have aversion therapy after he disclosed that he was being sexually abused by another male resident. Staff members accused him of being a homosexual and referred him to aversion therapy to be ‘cured’.

Mr Cummings described how during the sessions he was forced to sit on a chair with electrodes attached to his ankle. He was then shown pictures of semi-naked men and women, being administered an electric shock whenever a picture of a semi-naked man was shown. Mr Cummings was also asked to complete a sheet that recorded his sexual activities with other boys. He in fact disclosed the abuse on the sheet and to his doctor. Sadly, his complaints were ignored and the only response he received was to be given further aversion therapy. The Commission found that this response caused Mr Cummings considerable trauma and led to further abuse.

The Commission concluded that a proper assessment of Mr Cummings should have been conducted to determine whether aversion therapy was appropriate. Instead, Mr Cummings was forced into receiving the treatment without any investigation into his complaints by staff members at Turana or by Mr Verberne, the doctor who administered the aversion therapy.

Triad therapy at Winlaton

Several witnesses gave evidence to the Commission that they participated in a group counselling program called triad therapy whilst they were at Winlaton. The Commission heard that Triad therapy was compulsory at Winlaton and occurred five days per week.

Triad therapy was introduced to Winlaton by its Superintendent, Dr Eileen Slack, to encourage people to acknowledge and accept responsibility for their problems. However, the Commission heard evidence that this approach made the girls feel as though they had a problem and they were at fault for what was happening to them. Indeed, at RCT we have heard numerous complaints about triad therapy, with many describing the process as invasive, judgmental and distressing. 

Although it was unclear whether the girls at Winlaton disclosed sexual abuse during triad therapy, the Commission accepted that it was a possibility such disclosures occurred. The Commission was critical of the triad therapy, describing it as an inappropriate forum to receive and respond to complaints of sexual abuse as it was conducted in a group environment by people who were not trained in how to respond to these issues. It is reported by many of our clients that the disclosures made during triad therapy often made them feel vulnerable and gave ammunition to other residents to bully them.

The Commission’s criticism of these two forms of so-called ‘therapy’ highlights yet again that the State government and its institutions were out of touch with the needs of the vulnerable children in its care.

Unfortunately, it has been our experience that the scars from such forms of ‘therapy’ have at times prevented survivors of abuse from seeking legitimate forms of therapy in their adult years to help them deal with the trauma they suffered while institutionalised. Sadly, this demonstrates yet another way that survivors of institutional abuse were let down in ‘care’.

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