Last week Senator Derryn Hinch made headlines when he used parliamentary privilege to name and shame a paedophile police officer from Victoria who sexually brutalised nine children over 16 years in the 1970s and 1980s.
The police officer, who is now serving a 19 year jail sentence, raped his five-year-old stepdaughter at gun point almost daily. When she was nine, the little girl's grandmother took her to the doctor because she was miscarrying, Hinch said in parliament. The County Court had heard that Victoria Police failed to act on complaints about the officer and instead forced his resignation in 1979, after which he continued to sexually assault children in New South Wales for four more years.
Marie Claire has not published the former officer's name because judicial suppression of his victims' identities is still in place. His stepdaughter, now 45, and the other victims asked Hinch to name the offender on their behalf.
Ken Mahlab was abused by his primary school teacher when he was a small boy. Today, the 52-year-old married father-of-two lives in Melbourne, and advocates for child abuse prevention at Child Wise. Here, he explains why he believes that holding the institutions that protect paedophiles to account is more important than naming the abusers themselves:
I think what Derryn Hinch did in court is complex. Survivors of abuse carry conflict, anger and shame, and finding a place for it to exist in your life is very difficult. Vigilante violence, while incredibly appealing in one sense, is a very, very dangerous slope. To anyone who wants their abuser named and shamed – I’m not telling them they’re wrong. That’s not for me to do. It’s such a personal thing.
As ugly as it sounds, there are levels of abuse. What the police officer did is despicable. There’s no civilised, caring human being who would see that story and not think it’s disgusting. I can’t talk to [his survivors’] recovery period. I can only talk about me, and I wasn’t repeatedly abused over a period of years.
If I read the story correctly there were complaints to Victoria police [about the officer's behaviour].
For me, any organisation that permits abuse in their environment is almost as culpable as the sick individual who commits the crime. My opinion - without wishing to put any judgment on other victims - is that their anger should be towards Victoria Police. Child abuse is institutionalised in this country and it is tolerated. The idea of stranger danger, while 'headline grabbing', is misleading. The fact is it only represents around ten percent of the abuse. The real danger is in our schools. The danger is in church groups, in social clubs, and in family members.
There’s got to be massive education around that.
The argument for a name reveal bringing other victims forward has some merit. If you hear "John Smith", who you have no association with, is sentenced for molestation— that means nothing. But if you hear your next door neighbour went away for five years? That has enormous implications.
I can’t comment on naming and shaming my abuser because I haven’t been given the opportunity. He continues to reside overseas, and I’m hoping the police are going to proceed with an extradition order to bring him back to Australia for trial. Does naming and shaming get me that? No.
I’m more interested in the organisation being held to account for creating an environment where that was possible.
Telling my story on ABC did result in someone else coming forward, and I know that because they contacted me. I feel very good about it, but I didn’t name the person who had abused me. I named the environment and the time frame, and that empowered someone else.
What victims of abuse are looking for is justice. I think the abuser’s name is important, but chances are if the person is convicted then their life is in ruin anyway – because they’ve been identified and convicted as a paedophile.
When it comes to courts practising name suppression at the discretion of the survivors, it’s hard to know the answer. If I say yes to that I’m possibly supporting vigilante violence – which I am opposed to. If I say no to it, I’m possibly robbing a victim of abuse the opportunity to feel complete. I'm going to lose on that one either way.
Survivors are entitled to reclaim whatever dignity they can.
Ken has been involved with Childwise for almost a year because he shares their focus on educating organisations on child abuse prevention.
CHILD WISE HELPLINE: 1800991099