“For me, cure is not possible, because of what has happened,” Tyrone Marks told New Zealand’s royal commission on abuse in care on Monday. “However, I carry on as normally as possible.”
For the past two weeks, the commission has held hearings and gathered testimonies from people detained as children in state residential care. An extensive independent investigation launched by the Labor government in 2018 is tasked with revealing the extent of abuse in state care and its ongoing effects.
In all, 16 men and women took the stand to testify, each speaking for approximately three hours. Their testimonies revealed a litany of horrors. They spoke in detail about extreme physical abuse, beatings, sexual assault, psychological torment, and repeated rapes. Many experience ongoing health problems as a result, including serious injuries from physical blows, the aftermath of sexually transmitted diseases, psychological distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who spoke made up only a small fraction of the total estimated number of survivors, and are a small group representative of the thousands with whom the researchers spoke. The commission estimates that around 655,000 people have been in care settings in New Zealand since the 1950s, and up to 256,000 may have been abused. Your testimony it was broadcast live and transcripts will be posted on the commission’s website.
Marks, 60, spent time in up to eight state institutions, where she experienced physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Speaking to The Guardian after the panel, Marks said he tried to compress all those years into the two hours and 50 minutes allotted to him. “You don’t have much time. That’s years and years … It doesn’t do it justice, ”he says. The audience scheduled a 10-minute break during his testimony. In hindsight, he says, he would have liked to get those minutes back.
“There are thousands and thousands of similar stories. Those other survivors don’t have the opportunity that we had. I want to hit him as much as I can, to tell the stories of others as well. “
The commission will make recommendations to the government in 2023 on how the country can improve its care system, but those recommendations are not binding and the commission itself cannot prosecute violators or offer compensation. For some survivors, it is an opportunity to be heard; hold the state publicly accountable for abuse and neglect, and try to trace social problems to their roots.
‘All you can hear is screaming’
Some testified anonymously. X, a 61-year-old Samoan from Christchurch, began fleeing his home after suffering physical and sexual abuse by members of his family. He was first sent to the state children’s home around the age of 11.
There, several staff members physically assaulted, abused and raped him repeatedly.
In Boywairaka Boy’s Home’s secure unit, his cell was next to the shower. “When they used to take the boys there, you could – I would sit on my bed, you imagine that, you are a child and you are sitting on the bed in the cell and all you can hear is the screaming of the boys. sexually abused, being beaten. “
Daniel Rei faded story after story of violence and assault: of being thrown into a forest ravine in a hazing ritual, of the teeth that were loosened in his blows. The 47-year-old spoke in plain, clear language and short sentences, looking directly at the panel.
But when asked by legal counsel to recount a sexual assault, an assault by a resident on another child, with a broom, she stopped and squeezed her eyes shut. “If it is necessary to say it, I will say it, I will speak it,” he said. The chair stopped him: “Daniel, just to let you know that we have your account here, we can read it and therefore we respect your decision not to say so.” He nodded. “Things get blurry,” he said. “You try to let go of certain things, and they stay, they change format and they change shape. You have to remember them, horribly, just to make sure what you believed was correct. “
When asked about his feelings of fear and hopelessness, he replied, “He’s stuck. You can’t take it off. Never, never, never go away. And he never will. “He describes those years in caring for the state as” like a tear “in his life.
Many survivors hoped their testimony would help reveal the roots of some of New Zealand’s persistent social problems, including persistently high suicide rates, high rates of domestic violence, and the disproportionate incarceration of Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population. In the 1970s, the majority of children in state care were Maori, and the overrepresentation of Maori children under guardianship has continued. According to the royal commission’s report, Maori today represent 69% of children in care and 81% of abused children in care, even though they represent only about 16% of the total population.
“People must recognize the magnitude of it and must recognize the damage. It’s not only done to people, but to succeeding generations, ”says Aaron Smale, a journalist and researcher who has reported on abuses in state care for many years. He is now a PhD candidate and studies the experience of Maori children in the care of the state.
Many children were sent to day care centers for minor infractions: truancy or minor offenses. To the commission, Smale cited a case in which a child was sent to the Epuni Children’s Home for stealing a pencil.
“It sets a train in motion all this way of destruction, and not just for that person, when you have a traumatized child and they grow up and have children, it won’t necessarily be easy for them to be a good parent.”
“If he went through these welfare homes, the state was his father,” says Smale. “The state was the father of thousands of children, and what kind of work did they do? What kind of father was he? What kind of damage did it leave behind? “
“Until we recognize that, until we address it, we will continue to punish people.”
Marks says that many of his peers who went through abusive care settings passed some of that trauma on to their children. “Many people I know [from the homes], they have had children like me, and their children have suffered, they have not been raised with care, because others have been affected by what happened to them … Many people broke down. They broke their spirits, ”says Marks.
He now has six children and has worked his entire life to try to break that cycle: none of them have been placed in the care of the state or in prisons. “I made sure it wasn’t statistics on that intergenerational issue,” he says. “I didn’t want them to go through all that.”
All four of Marks’ adult children watched the live broadcast of his testimony, in support of him on Monday.
‘The importance of changing the system’
Mr. X ended his testimony by requesting that New Zealand find out what happened to him. “There is no repair, there is no recourse, because they cannot take us back to those days,” he said. But he, along with several other survivors, believes that the state should pay adequate financial compensation to survivors of abuse in state care.
Many survivors have already spent decades fighting the government for compensation. From 2020, the average payout to survivors who managed to win a settlement from the state It was NZ $ 19,000, less than a fifth of the average payment for comparable cases in Australia. In some cases, the state settled for as little as NZ $ 5,000. In 2020, the Ministry of Social Development revealed that more than 60% of the money it spent on settling historical abuse claims went towards operating costs and legal fees, not survivors.
Mr X asked the commission to focus on “the importance of changing the system, the importance to us that children are no longer treated like this.” Marks also hopes New Zealanders will watch the videos and read testimonials from those who spoke.
“I’ve been telling stories like this for years and years, but it never goes too far. So having the opportunity to tell it feels like something. “
“If you don’t address the past, you can’t address the future,” he says: New Zealand must consider the legacy of abuse in state care and begin to understand the impact it has had on future generations.
“You don’t start a book in the middle and then come to the end and hope you have the answers,” he says. “You have to identify where things come from.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism