Abuse in plain sight

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia has issued its report following the examination of allegations of child sexual abuse of a number of former students at two performing arts institutions in Sydney:-

  • the Australian Institute of Music (AIM)
  • RG Dance Pty Limited (RG Dance)

Performing arts institutions such as AIM and RG Dance are not typical of the organisations that we commonly associate with allegations of child sexual abuse. What is most striking about this report is the reaction and/or inaction of some parents and other responsible adults in the face of these allegations, when the abuse was in plain sight.

In the case of AIM, Victor Makarov a renowned Ukrainian pianist, was appointed head of the piano department in 1998 and taught there until 2004. Between mid-February and May 2004 Makarov was charged with 30 child sexual offences. He continued to teach at AIM under supervision and with restriction, despite the fact that in April 2004, the NSW Department of Education advised AIM that Makarov was considered a ‘high level of risk’. Makarov was never suspended by AIM and remained in post until he sought leave from AIM in July, 2004, which was granted.

On the 30 March 2004 the New South Wales Ombudsman served an investigation notice on AIM notifying its intention to investigate AIM’s handling of and response to the allegations of child abuse. In the course of this investigation, it was discovered that despite having been charged with 30 child sexual offences Makarov was teaching students in his home, these students’ parents had taken their children out of AIM so that they could be taught by Makarov at home. Makarov was eventually convicted for child sex offences and subsequently jailed.

Grant Davies was a dance teacher and co-founder of RG Dance. Police began investigating him after his wife found child pornography material and messages on his laptop. In 2013 he was charged with 63 child sexual offences relating to various acts of child sexual abuse committed over a period of 13 years between 2001 and 2013. His victims were aged between nine and 14. Davies pleaded guilty to a large number of child sex abuse charges and in 2015 was sentenced to a maximum term of 24 years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 18 years.

Davies used his position as a dance teacher to groom students and commit child sexual abuse offences.  He talked with them online late into the night. He entered changing rooms unannounced, inappropriately touched students and made sexualised comments to them. In 2007 complaints of child sexual abuse offences were made against Davies to the police by a number of RG Dance students.  Although NSW Police investigated the allegations, the matter did not proceed to a prosecution.

Many of these acts occurred in public places within RG Dance and were witnessed by parents, teachers, administrators and students. The parents of the children had a strong wish for their child to succeed at dance and many believed Davies when he promised he would turn their daughters into stars. Davies was also able to groom the parents to comply with his wishes. The students, who wanted to succeed, felt emotionally blackmailed and intimidated by Davies. Both parents and students feared that if they did not comply with Davies’ requests that this would negatively impact their dance careers and their opportunity to be a star. As a result abuse was not reported when it should have been, thus enabling Davies to abuse children over such a long period of time, which is particularly worrying when you consider that this abuse is not historical in nature, it is very recent having taken place as late as 2013.

However, with recent revelations of similar abuse in football in the last few months, what is now clear is how vigilant we as a society must be when it comes to the steps that must be taken to protect children in the very many circumstances where they come into regular contact with adults in their daily lives.

Today in the majority of situations where adults work and/or interact with children there are established child protection/safeguarding policies or codes of conduct in place and the necessary procedures and systems required to prevent, handle and receive complaints of allegations of child sexual abuse are embedded in those organisations.

Of course for those policies and procedures to be effective, people need to be aware of their existence, trained in how to apply them and know how and when to activate the procedures so that abuse in plain sight does not go unreported.

Written by Sharon Moohan, associate

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