Bravehearts’ Founder, Hetty Johnston Talks About Child Protection

Many have said that child protection advocate and Bravehearts‘ founder, Hetty Johnston wears her heart on her sleeve. And during a radio interview on 4OUR – Moreton Bay’s Own Radio, Hetty didn’t pull any punches (listen to the podcast).

During the interview, many aspects of child safety were discussed including where it has come from over the past 20-years, what is being done (or lack of) and what desperately needs to be done.

Hetty Johnston interview transcript:-

Andrew: Thank you for your company once again this morning. It’s 10.30, you’re listening to 101.5FM, this is the Morning Magazine, Wednesday’s community forum. As you know we’ve been talking about it this morning, it is child protection week, that goes from the 4th to the 10th, we’re currently the 8th so we’re in the middle of it. If you want to know some more information about it there’s a website, childprotectionweek.org.au. Queensland Police Service, they put out a statement, and this is what we’re paying attention to this morning, this is something that we can do here at 101.5FM. It goes on to say that, “In order to prevent these crimes around child protection, an open and frank discussion is something that we need to have. The community plays an important role in helping police respond to these crimes, and enabling the groups and organizations who are there to provide support and assistance access to those who have suffered through these crimes.” Now, somebody that has been doing this, that has been campaigning on this absolutely tirelessly for, well it looks like at least 20 years, has been Hetty Johnston. Hetty Johnston’s on the line, how are you?

Hetty: Good thank you Andrew, thanks for having me.

Andrew: Look this is quite some milestone, 20 years with the White Balloon Day. How’s it all going?

Hetty: It’s been an interesting ride, Andrew. We came to the sector, or I came into this space, I was running businesses, when our daughter disclosed at age 7 that she was sexually assaulted. It was all new to me and not an area I ever imagined myself in. Since that time, it was all shrouded in silence and no one talked about it, no one even said the word, let alone responded appropriately. It’s been a long ride and I think a lot has been accomplished, but there’s still an awful lot to do.

Andrew: Hetty Johnston you probably don’t remember it, but I actually sat next to you on a plane, I can’t remember whether it was from Canberra or Sydney, but back into Brisbane. Just an absolute testament to your tireless approach to this, naturally that’s what we got talking about on the plane heading back to Brisbane. You chose not to be quiet about it, you chose to talk about this, do you see that your impact of talking about this is getting the community on a broader base talking about it, and do they need to even talk about it more?

Hetty: Definitely. Whilst I’m not claiming everything, I’m not the be all and end all of anything, I work with an amazing team, but certainly the decision to talk about what happened in our family and to speak publicly against that was actually against the law at the time, and it was a bit of a fight that in itself to get permission to speak. I didn’t wait for permission, I just went and spoke anyway, they challenged me with court action and I sort of said, “Bring it on.” You’re not going to silence me, I’m not going to say to my daughter, “Shh, don’t tell anybody.” The moment I would have done that, to her, to my very brave, she’s just so brave, and my husband so brave for defending her.

The moment we are feeling like we can’t talk about it, or we can’t be proud of that, that’s when the shackle of shame, secrecy, and silence attaches itself. That’s what leads to depression and everything else, and I knew that instinctively at the time. I haven’t changed my mind on it, and all of the survivors that I’ve worked with over these years, and their experiences once they have broken their silence and they’ve taken their power back, the power that was stolen, it just is testament to this. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, I certainly am, but I’m also, as I say, acutely aware that I’m not the only one and there’s a lot more work to do.

Andrew: You mentioned that through this journey you’ve never changed your view on speaking out, what about some of the things over this journey that you’ve maybe learnt, and maybe even have changed you view on?

Hetty: Oh my goodness, what haven’t I learnt? I have learnt so much, I have learnt so much. Look, I had no idea about this issue at all, I just didn’t ever imagine that it would come to a family like ours, such a close family. I can’t imagine who I thought it would go to, but certainly not families like ours, but of course it does. It affects 1 in 5 children right across society. I’ve learnt that the system isn’t working, honestly I’ve learnt that it’s broken, I’ve learnt that what we do is we tweak around the edges of it, I’ve learnt that government have responsibility, statutory responsibility for mopping up carnage and so that’s where they direct their dollars and their loathe to throw those dollars or equal those dollars into prevention because prevention doesn’t actually show a result in 1 political term. It’s going to take 3 or 4 of those, so it’s going to take by part of some political action to actually protect our children. I’ve learnt that frustration is part of my life and all I can do, and all we can all do, is demand more from our politicians.

As I say, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt I’ll never give up, there’s nothing more important that our children. The family law court in this country is an absolute mess, and I know I’m upsetting a whole bunch of people when I say that, but I don’t care, it is, and it’s an institution that needs a Royal Commission in it’s own right, and it needs to be sorted out. I’ve learnt from the families and the children that are going through that process right now, that it is a dysfunctional system and it’s the worst institution in this country at the moment, not because of any one particular person, but because it’s dysfunctional it doesn’t work, it’s broken, and it needs to be rebuilt, trashed to the ground and rebuilt.

Andrew: Hettie Johnston, they’re very, very strong words, and a part of that you’ve called for a royal commission into that system. How are you going with current support around, and you’ve also talked about the politicians, but those politicians first of all is there any support, and second of all is there bipartisan support?

Hetty: Well we’ve got support in the senate at the moment certainly from the people who hold the balance of power in the senate there. They’re closer to the ground, perhaps they understand this a little better than the others, I’m not sure. I live in hope that common sense will prevail and that our children will rise to the top of the priority list. There is no point in having a healthy economy if our children are dying, committing suicide, filling our jails, and our morgues, and mental health institutions. We really have to question what it is that we value most. I think I probably after 20 years I’m not as careful anymore, perhaps, what I say. I don’t care, the challenge is there to all politicians and I know individually they’re all family members, they have children, I’m not suggesting that any one of them doesn’t care about children, but I am suggesting that other things are taking priority and I’ll just continue to try to put this at the top of their list.

Andrew: Hettie Johnston, you mentioned the cross benches, and you feel that you’ve already got support in that area, one of those is the controversial Derryn Hinch that is now in the senate, and he has been quite controversial around these subjects. Have you spoken with him since he’s been elected?

Hetty: Very briefly after he was elected, he was off to Hawaii and I was taking my first major holiday, or a holiday of any sort really in 20 years, with my husband to Europe. We had a brief chat just before I left.

Andrew: Are you encouraged that he’s going to be a positive thing for your cause in that position as senator?

Hetty: Absolutely I am, I’ve also spoken to Pauline Hanson before the election, not since the election, but I will, I’ll be coming to Canberra shortly and I’ll be speaking to all of them. I hope that they’ve got their ears on, and I hope that we can come to something, we need to sort this out, we really do. I’m not exaggerating, children are dying, we know this. Little people are dying, they’re being raped in their own bedrooms, and bashed, and what are we doing? Every now and then one of them hits the headlines when they’ve actually died, been murdered, but there are many more like that who are surviving just, in these horrid, squalid conditions, in our very wealthy country. I don’t know how, as a nation, we can hold our head up when we know that and we’re not prioritizing their safety. We have to look at the whole system and how the whole system is working. I think that’s happening, I like to think that’s happening. I think current governments, particularly here in Queensland [inaudible 00:08:37] turning their attention to this, so let’s just hope that this time we get some results that mean something.

Andrew: One of the things that you’re doing to aim to get results, that is White Balloon Day, that’s coming up on September 9th. First of all can you just tell us a little bit about what White Balloon Day’s all about?

Hetty: Certainly. Back in 1996 when our own daughter disclosed, there was a massive rally in Belgium where 300,000 people came together with white balloons in the square. It’s an incredible sight, I remember it like it was yesterday, seeing that on television. There was a pedophile there, Marc Dutroux, released pedophile, kept children in a dungeon, murdered them, raped them, killed them, stabbed them to death, et cetera. The parents of those girls just went to the media and said, “If you want to do something, if you want to help us to protect children, come to the square with a white balloon.” 300,000 people did. At the very same time, here in Queensland on my dining room table, there was half a dozen of us sitting around just trying to work out what was going to be our red nose, or our pink ribbon. What were we going to use as the call to action for this issue. Then that was on the television and so white balloon day was born, it was 1966, and this is its 20th year.

It’s widely supported, the support we get is just incredible really. It’s nothing like what the cancers get, and the breast cancers, and the ovarian cancers. We don’t get those millions of dollars in support that we so desperately need, but we get people like your wonderful mayor there, Allan Sutherland, gives us an office in Strathpine rent free so we can provide counselling from that space. That sort of support just means everything to us because it means we can reach out to the children and families who need us.

Andrew: Hettie Johnston, for those that maybe want to support White Balloon Day, whether that be turning up to this event or, as you mentioned, funding’s always a struggle, they may want to donate or get behind it anyway that they possibly can. How do they best do that?

Hetty: On the website, bravehearts.org.au. Get online and donate, I can’t say any more strongly. We do speak out, we don’t take no prisoners really in how we speak, but we’re very honest in what we say, but we believe we need to say it. That of course means that most of our funding comes from the community, not from the government. We’re relying on the community to support us so that we can continue the fight to protect our children.

Andrew: Hetty Johnston, thank you very much for spending some time with our listeners.

Hetty: It’s my absolutely pleasure, anytime. Thanks for your interest. Everybody that’s listening, please get a white balloon, find one somewhere, tie it to your letterbox on Friday, and know that a mum or a dad, or a little kid riding their bike is going to need to see that balloon. For them it will represent that we care about them, we’re thinking about them, and we want them to break the silence, to tell someone so that we can stop this from happening to them, and stop the person that’s doing it from hurting other children.

Andrew: Hettie Johnston, the Bravehearts founded. You’re listening to 101.5FM, this is the Morning Magazine, Wednesday’s community forum. You can get involved in these discussions, give us a call on 54951015, or send us an email if that’s what you prefer to do, radio@1015fm.com.au. If you want to do it in a social way, you can do that, facebook.com/101.5fm. You may want to get involved in this particular discussion that we’ve had this morning. As the Queensland police have said, I’ll read it again, it’s a statement straight from them, “In order to prevent these crimes, open and frank discussion is something we need to have, and we being the community. The community plays an important role in helping police respond to these crimes and enabling the groups and organizations who are there to provide support and assistance, access to those who have suffered through these crimes.” The way for evil to prosper, as a famous saying goes, is for good men to stay silent.

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