During four years of employment with a Lutheran Church support service, Gillian faced a number of hurdles as a case worker hired to investigate allegations of sexual abuse within the Church.
The service was intended to provide guidance and support to victims and reporters of sexual abuse. Gillian joined the program in the 2000s, and found the Church ‘downright obstinate’ about acting on cases.
‘When it came to the crunch, I think the Church was only interested in preserving its reputation. My recommendations were mostly ignored.’
When teachers reported the abuse of students and staff within a Lutheran boarding school, Gillian spoke to the school principal, Barry Sanderson, as part of her investigation.
‘Barry’s reaction was pretty shocking. He started talking about the impact on enrolment numbers if allegations of the abuse went public, and then insinuated that most of the eight reports I’d received were from women who were either drunks or suffering from postnatal depression.’
She found that by not lodging mandatory reports on abuse, Barry had failed to uphold his duty of care, as had the person to whom Barry reported, and that both should therefore be stood down.
Gillian disclosed her findings to a Lutheran bishop and a senior member of the Lutheran Schools Association, and met with them to discuss action on the findings.
‘I wanted to see victims of sexual abuse provided with external care, because often they’d lost trust in the Church but were in dire need of support and counselling. But the others seemed more concerned about the negative press surrounding my investigation into abuse at the boarding school.’
Gillian also recommended the Church send an apology to the victims, which she said was ignored.
‘I think acknowledgement and empathy is important to victims of abuse, to help them heal, so I ended up sending the apology myself. The bishop later asked me why I’d sent it without his consent, which demonstrates a complete lack of insight into the abuse people were suffering.’
She told the Commissioner that a Church official later made public comments that she was ‘unqualified to make recommendations about sexual abuse within the Church’, and that this had led to her resignation.
‘Before taking on that role, I’d been a parole officer and extensively worked with victims and perpetrators within the prison system so felt more than qualified to assess claims of abuse. Over four years I dealt with 72 reports, but I know there were others that the bishop chose to handle himself.’
In every case, Gillian pointed out, allegations were only ever dealt with internally.
‘The Lutheran Church did not treat sexual abuse seriously, and that’s been really, really disappointing for me. I believe there’s a good chance thousands of children in schools, and others under their care, may still be at risk today. There’s a lot of talk about caring for victims, but there’s nobody addressing their needs and wants. Victims stand completely alone, and that’s simply not good enough.’