Tasmania’s ‘unexamined dark past’ has led to latest reckoning with child sexual abuse

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The current inquiry into sexual abuse in Tasmania has opened wounds, with one expert saying the “unexamined dark past” of the prison island has a lot to answer for — made worse by lingering shame and a compulsion for secrecy.

In its first week of public hearings, the Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings has heard from a mother who said her concerns about a nurse at the Launceston General Hospital were not taken seriously, and about how workplace culture at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre could be encouraging old-fashioned, unfavourable attitudes towards children.

The commission will also examine the Education Department’s practice of moving paedophile teachers from school to school, and abuse of children in the state’s out of home care system.

It will continue to hear stories from victim-survivors of child sexual abuse.

On Thursday, the commission heard from two academics — political scientist Professor Richard Eccleston and historian and author Professor Cassandra Pybus — who spoke about the features of Tasmania and its culture that may have lead to abuse of children becoming normalised.

Professor Cassandra Pybus.(Supplied: Peter Mathews)

A ‘culture of silence’

Dr Pybus said Tasmania’s convict days were “brutal”.

“What marks Tasmania out for me in many ways is its powerful carceral past; it was established completely and utterly as a prison society and it was, thanks to the third governor, managed in extraordinary ways,” she said.


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