Recovery from sexually harmful behaviour is complex as a result of the strategies used by the person causing the harm and the variety of responses from the victims and those close to them. In intra-familial sexual abuse the experiences and needs of victims are often invisible. Others, especially mothers, are unfairly put in positions of blame or self-blame. To facilitate the recovery of the victims and their families, it is critical for all concerned to contribute to the unravelling of the circumstances – and for the offenders to accept responsibility.
With a background in social work and law, Dale Tolliday has been a trusted advisor in the field of child sexual abuse for more than twenty years. He consults, he undertakes research, and he has delivered training programs in two different services under the auspices of NSW Health.
At Cedar Cottage Services, where he was Director 1989 – 2010, Dale provided an integrated service, helping child victims of sexual abuse and their families resolve emotional and psychological traumas. His objective was to stop other members of the family blaming themselves for the offender’s actions, and to change the balance of power within the family unit to stop the perpetrator from re-offending.
Dale worked mostly with men, fathers and step-fathers, giving them the opportunity to discuss their behaviour, identifying and understanding their tactics, and helping them recognise the harm they had caused. By offering a therapeutic environment, he also encouraged the men to reveal other offences. This information enabled sexual assault teams and other government services to anticipate the risks in future situations, and the possible consequences. It has become clear that abusive men usually have a long history and started to inflict harm many decades earlier, their first victim often being a younger sibling.
These men did not come to Dale and his colleagues of their own volition. They were convicted sex offenders who seek a two-year rehabilitation program at Cedar Cottage over jail, with their participation enforced by law. Paramount to the success of Dale’s work was the focus on the long-term mental health of the victims and their mothers. By encouraging the men to take responsibility for their actions and begin the process of healing, he was facilitating a process that often helped save the lives of their desperate, sometimes suicidal victims.
In 2012, despite independent research identifying positive outcomes, the NSW Government decided not to continue the program as it formed a view that this form of treatment did not meet community expectations. To date no alternative integrated family services have been developed and Cedar Cottage is to close at the end of 2014. Since this decision was made, Dale has been focusing on his work at New Street Services, the foundation of which he led in 1997.
New Street Services have committed teams in four NSW locations who offer a program that provides coordinated and consistent responses to young people aged 10–17 years who have sexually harmed others. New Street are leading research in this area, for example identifying that half of the victims are the siblings of the offenders. As a result of developing culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal young people and their families, a significant proportion of its referrals are for Aboriginal young people in rural areas. Dale travels throughout NSW, supporting teams to provide accessible, culturally relevant help for the offenders as well as support and rehabilitation for the families involved and their communities. He and his colleagues offer specialised therapeutic services designed to effect positive behavioural change which also acknowledges their own trauma. In many cases it is possible to divert these young people from the juvenile justice system and, hopefully, stop the cyclical nature of abuse.