THE MORAL DRIFT
Fraser Crichton is a visual artist who graduated from the University of Arts London in 2019 with a Distinction for his Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography. His research-based practice incorporates investigative journalism, data-visualisation, video, working with historical archival images and still photography. He works on projects examining the power of the state in the context of the criminal justice system and social reform.
Like many hidden histories, the story of abuse in state care in Aotearoa/New Zealand isn't hidden. Instead, it's been deliberately suppressed.
An estimated 100 000 children were placed in foster, state and psychiatric facilities between the 1950s and 80s in Aotearoa. At institutions like Kohitere children were beaten and held in solitary confinement. At Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital children were given electroconvulsive therapy as a form of punishment. Children were sexually abused in both these facilities and other state-run facilities and across the country in foster care. 50% of these children were indigenous Māori.
Although many children reported this abuse at the time, social workers and police dismissed their complaints of abuse. These were bad children. They made stories up. They lied. At least, according to those who refused to action their complaints at the time.
As adults, survivors' calls for the prosecution of perpetrators of abuse, for fair compensation for the trauma the survivors experienced and particularly for a formal public inquiry into abuse in state care were also repeatedly denied, ignored or dismissed; deliberately hidden and redacted away. Only in 2020 was The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care set up.
This hidden history, however, continues to cast a shadow. State care fuels Aotearoa's spiralling indigenous incarceration rates. Intergenerational trauma combined with a contemporary moral panic over social services’ intervention in cases of child abuse now sees the uplift of children at unprecedented levels. These children continue to be disproportionately Māori.