Voice of the abused
Voice of the abused

If anyone doubts the ability of the written word to hold explosive political truths, they didn't attend the recent book launch of When We Remember They Call Us Liars by Suzanne Covich at Katanning's Country Club.

Heads swivelled and eyebrows rose as Katanning's Shire president Richard Kowald took to the floor to introduce the author, but instead used the opportunity to underscore his stance in recent shire politics.

In that realm he has led an ongoing push to oust councillor Ainslie Evans in the wake of findings about her made by former Supreme Court justice Peter Blaxell in his report following the Katanning St Andrew's Hostel inquiry.

The link here is that Covich's memoir relates the horrific sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents growing up in a small and isolated rural town in Tasmania. The subject of the abuse of children is why she wanted to launch her book in Katanning.

The Blaxell report today stands as WA's precursor to the prime minster's pledged royal commission into the sexual abuse of children in State and church care. It is an overview in part designed to explain the long reign of abuse by convicted paedophile Dennis McKenna in Katanning's St Andrew's Hostel, from 1975 to 1990, and names those who might have spoken out and saved many children from abuse.

Simply put, the report sets out to answer who is to blame. How could we let this happen to our children? Why did no one speak out? How could those in authority not have known or acted?

On the book launch night, Kowald's speech encapsulated the complexity and psychological wrestling we experience in dealing with childhood sexual abuse. The widespread ramifications left a lot to be learnt, Covich said.

She hopes her memoir will help in the education of everyone concerned about the devastating nature of abuse and has written it to describe what happens in the mind of a child when they are utterly and horrifically betrayed by those who should love and care for them.

"Katanning's story is my story," she has said. It is also where the local book club invited Covich to speak to their group.

When the local library was initially suggested as a venue for her to talk about her book, the council refused. Too political. The Country Club was thought to be neutral ground.

If the 40-plus townspeople and supporters of the book hoped to hear about the lyricism of the passages, the potency of the young narrator's voice or the physical presence of the countryside on the night of the launch, then they would have been disappointed. What eventuated showed the divided psyche when it comes to facing the sexual abuse of children.

Covich is a passionate educator focused on the protection of children.

"I have a moral obligation to address the silences and stand together with those whose lives have been damaged."

Covich said it was not just the victim of abuse who was victimised, and that education about abuse and how speaking out could be systemised was still needed.

Regardless of the context, fear of disclosure remained a major problem and is prevalent in rural societies where small-town politics can corrupt and silence.

"I really do understand how one corrupt person can devastate a community," she said.

"I know for sure that understanding how abuse occurs is not achieved by simple, convenient black-and-white judgment."

Covich wanted the launch "to be one of absolute celebration, to share our humanity, our understanding, compassion and truth".

"In one way I am glad the night became political. Perhaps it was inevitable. I'll say this: it is far too easy to blame one person, to make them a scapegoat like Ainslie Evans, who has worked hard for the town.

"It is we, as a society that allows on-going ignorance surrounding this appalling reality, who are to blame."

The West Australian

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