- Date published:
12:10 am, November 4th, 2019 - 15 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, child abuse, child welfare, culture, domestic violence, Ethics, health and safety, Social issues, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, uncategorized, violence against women, workers' rights - Tags: abuse, Te Whare Pounamu, TWP, women's refuge
I remained relatively silent after coming out publicly, alongside anonymous sources, to expose theft, bullying and a culture at Te Whare Pounamu, Dunedin Women’s Refuge that refused to report child abuse. After the original story broke I resisted writing about issues that media overlooked. I resisted the urge to challenge Women Refuge Chief Executive Ang Jury’s victim blaming comments . But her latest media comments cannot go unchallenged.
Based on my knowledge of the Refuge, interruption to the service is exactly what is needed. The service should be interrupted to ensure that those facilitating the children’s programmes have the necessary training, skills and character required to work with children. It should be interrupted to ensure that those running the programme are aware of their obligations to report abuse concerns, and to ensure that staff are actually willing to do so. In my opinion, interruption would be a very positive thing.
It irks me that the media and general public are focused on theft, whilst essentially ignoring the more concerning issue of child safety. Should we really ignore the snippets within the independent interagency report that indicate a much bigger problem is seething beneath the facade of Ang Jury’s PR spin?
Not surprisingly, the TWP Board disputed the findings of the independent investigations, which just smacks of the same ‘deny and blame’ mentality that I encountered when I still worked for them. The MSD report based on the independent SSA and Deloitte investigations stand on their own merits. The TWP Board, despite their best efforts, cannot escape the evidence that proves the extent of the problems and dysfunction within an organisation that they are supposed to govern. Meanwhile Ang Jury’s recent media comments imply that everything in the organisation is ‘sorted’. It’s not. I am not sure how Ang Jury can make that statement when so many issues remain unresolved.
The report pointed out many failings within TWP, but of note are the concerns it raised about the suitability of staff running the children’s programmes. This not fully addressed within the report because, though revealed by the investigation, it was not a part of the initial concerns I raised. I feel this smacks of negligence on the part of MSD and it has left me wondering why it has not received the attention it deserves.
The Board has displayed a reluctance to address problems with the urgency initially required by MSD. They gave them until 15th February 2019 to address various problems, including procedures around managing child abuse reports. Yet by 27th June 2019, some four months after the deadline, they had failed to meet the critical actions required of them. This goes hand in hand with their attempts to deny the problems, minimise the concerns and blame others while continuing to support an abusive and dysfunctional management that is hell bent on maintaining a longstanding vile and pernicious culture.
The Board is a part and parcel of the dysfunction within TWP. The Board sat with the knowledge that concerns existed long before MSD stepped in to investigate. In fact, I made the Board aware of issues in May 2018. I have no evidence they investigated any of the concerns I raised with them despite their assurances that they would. Notwithstanding that the same Board had experienced similar problems some 3 years earlier, the fact so many issues haven’t been resolved is surprising given the supposed level of ‘expertise’ that some Board members are purported to hold. Given these failings, it is my view that the Board should resign.
On top of that, the MSD report highlights the fact that the Child Advocate (CA), is unwilling to follow through on reports of child abuse, Whilst I was working in the organisation the Child Advocate and the manager lied to me about their intentions to follow through on serious care and protection matters I’d become privy to. Not only that, but they began targeting me on a daily basis, seemingly for no other reason than that I had been trying to fulfill my professional obligations. The main perpetrator was the manager. Other staff had similar experiences when it came to reporting care and protection issues.
These were the primary reasons I made a complaint to MSD (after attempting to go to the TWP Board and the National Collective). Eventually I went to the media when it appeared the Board would continue to deny and minimise matters while blaming others for their own shortcomings. Despite her reluctance to report abuse, the Child Advocate remains in her role to this day. I will let the reader think about the potential consequences of that for any vulnerable child disclosing abuse to a supposedly trusted adult; an adult who then either ignores the disclosure or acts on it inappropriately.
Ang Jury in classic ‘feel sorry for us’ style claims that “staff have been put through the wringer”. Is Ang Jury suggesting that MSD put staff through the wringer? MSD actually handled the investigations with incredible sensitivity and care. It seems that Ang jury, like the TWP Board, is choosing to ignore the impacts of ongoing abuse that staff suffer within TWP. Those who have been put through the wringer are those who were brave enough to tell the truth.
Management certainly put me and my colleagues through the wringer when I worked there. To name it, such abuse included, not having access to resources needed to do our jobs, being forced to work extra hours unpaid, being forced into unsafe situations without support, constant put downs and criticisms, being maligned by management within the workplace and in public, passive aggressive strategies such as the ‘silent treatment’ and demanding we drop essential client work at a moment’s notice to do such things as clean toilets, as well as ignoring basic significant health and safety issues. I could go on.
Ang Jury should be familiar with the dynamics of abuse, there’s information about it on the Women’s Refuge website. The power and control wheel is also a very useful tool to analyse the behaviour and types of abuse that many of us experienced at TWP. https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/
These behaviours negatively impacted on our wellbeing, and to date this has not been addressed by anyone – not the Board and certainly not Ang Jury. In fact, what happened in the organisation not only adversely affected us, it also negatively affected clients. These experiences and the lack of support or redress contradict Ang Jury’s belief that it is all ‘sorted’ and that “the quality of service offered to the women and children going through the refuge was, and would continue to be high”.
How can that be the case when management has deliberately shut down abuse concerns, compromised and bullied staff and encouraged theft. Some staff were subjected to such high levels of psychological abuse that they simply dreaded going to work. The Duluth power and control wheel is a useful tool to understand the types of behaviour and abuse that staff were subjected to at TWP. Management and the Board failed to act when they were informed about the negative impact the dysfunctional behaviour (which occurred even during the investigation process) was having on staff well-being. How could we provide a high quality service when we were facing our own abusers within the supposedly safe haven of Women’s Refuge?
Ang Jury has even stooped to minimising the theft that occurred at Te Whare Pounamu with her comment that staff were ““being a little bit loose with donations”. Let’s call it what it was; it was theft. Management were stealing and they encouraged staff to do the same. From my experience it felt like an initiation. It was more than staff being a ‘little bit loose with donations’ around food and second hand clothing. It included full scale theft of copious amounts of new toys and other goods donated for children and women, and it had been occurring for years. So making ridiculous statements that the organisation was “being a bit loose with donations” is just rubbish and insulting PR spin, ; especially to those of us who took a huge risk in outing the normalisation of theft at multiple levels in the organisation. For the record it should be stated that not all staff were stealing so they shouldn’t all be tarred with the same brush.
The problems at Te Whare Pounamu are more widespread than just TWP. From the time the first story broke I have been contacted by staff from other Refuges, all telling me very similar stories. Ang Jury and MSD know of at least one of those other Refuges. Moreover, a perusal of the many comments on social media reinforce that the problem is a big festering wound. What I have realised since speaking out is that the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges (NCIWR) have some big problems. Te Whare Pounamu is just the tip of a very big and potentially unstable iceberg.
Women from different Refuges have been approaching me with stories so similar to mine that it might seem there’s a manual from which some managers are learning their craft. These women are not impressed by Ang Jury’s media comments. Hopefully it is only a matter of time before they find a way to address the problems in their own Refuges. Given the widespread lack of faith in Ang Jury and NCIWR, I am actively encouraging them to go to MSD and if necessary, to take their issues to the media.
This is a sad reflection of an organisation that claims its “purpose is to liberate women, children, families and whānau from family violence”. There’s nothing liberating for those of us who have, and continue to be subjected to abusive power and control strategies within the organisation. I think it is time that Women’s Refuge took a long hard look at their operations and take steps to empower current staff (nationally) to speak their truth, without feeling like they’re going to lose their jobs if they do speak up. It has become apparent that safety planning isn’t just something some Refuge staff do with clients, it is necessary for staff to have their own safety plans to manage the abuse they suffer at the hands of management.
In closing, the manager of Te Whare Pounamu has finally resigned after putting a number of staff at the organisation through the wringer. Meanwhile, the Board continue to deny the harm that was caused. I’m told that the same abusive manager was still able to attend the recent NCIWR AGM, despite no longer being employed by the organisation. What is the word that would describe NCIWR allowing her continued involvement after all of the harm she has caused? To add insult to injury, according to word from within the sector, she’s also received a golden handshake…
That’s not dissimilar to the experiences of domestic violence victims, where the victims are left wanting, while their abusers walk away unscathed. In this case, it looks like the abuser’s been rewarded.