DARK SECRETS: Experiences of children violently and sexually abused in their own home is at the heart of a play adapted for the stage from a research based book of the same name. Jessica Martin, PICTURED, plays the main character of Amy.

By JOHN DOOLEY

WHEN Melbourne playwright and director Kieran Carroll was commissioned to transform a book about child abuse and family violence into a stage play, he was confronted with a subject that is often swept under the carpet, as victims and affected family members keep quiet about the dark goings-on in their home.

Kieran’s play ‘The truth is longer than a lie’, to be performed at the Mildura Arts Centre on September 24, was adapted from the non-fiction book with the same name, and written by Dr Neerosh Mudaly and Professor Chris Goddard from Monash University, who were conducting research into child abuse within the home.

Dr Mudaly said Kieran’s adaptation provided a new platform to bring the experiences of child victims to light among the wider community.

“At a time when both the Federal and State governments are holding Royal Commissions into child abuse and family violence, we felt it was important to bring a different prospective to the discussion,” she said.

“If we are a moral and just society, we must protect children. If we are to protect children, we have to listen to them.”

Kieran said that his play adapts the book’s personal accounts from teenagers who suffered abuse as children, focusing on their experiences and what they endured.

“The play explores children’s first-hand accounts of abuse, neglect and the systems designed to protect them,” he said. “It also examines what happens when there is disclosure and when child protection workers and the police become involved.”

In the play the teenagers, who are from different socio-economic backgrounds, break their silence about child abuse, beginning with the abuse within the home and later moving into a world of counselling, dire family consequences and the ways in which the damaged children can continue to live and recover.

Kieran said that the circumstances of some of the families are quite confronting.

“In one case, a young girl had been abused by her father between the ages of three to 17, before everything came out,” he said. “This was a wealthy, seemingly perfect family, where the abusing father is outwardly a good citizen who serves on the local school committee, and is a very successful real estate agent and for all appearances, a perfect father.”

Kieran said that what often happens is that the wife or partner ends up being complicit in the situation by not saying anything.

“The reason for this is that when they are confronted with the reality of what it would mean to bring the matter into the light – taking the children out of school, maybe having to move interstate, facing probable court action and the dividing up of money and property – it’s all too much to contemplate.

“The collapse of the whole lifestyle is at stake, and so they hope it will all go away if it’s kept quiet within the family. Therefore, by default, the non-offending person doesn’t say anything for years and in a sense are in a state of denial and become complicit.”

Kieran said the other testimony in the play surrounds the experiences of a boy whose mother remained in a relationship with a man who was not only physically violent, but was also sexually violent towards her son.

In order to travel the production, Kieran said he’d produced a community-based version of the original 95-minute play, reducing the duration and the number of actors and staging involved, at the same time developing a production that could be easily travelled and set up in a variety of locations.

“So that’s what’s coming to Mildura Arts Centre – it’s a production that really encourages as much community involvement as possible,” he said. “After every performance there is a Q and A community forum, where people can get assistance – there are medical professionals and child protection workers on hand for each session.

“It’s one of these plays that men should attend – I know it’s a difficult subject for men to confront – in Ballarat recently there were about 110 people in attendance, 99 percent of whom were women.”

Admission to the Monday, September 24, 5.30pm production is free, and bookings are not required.