Sorrow in statistics

After taking part in a survey on child abuse, Emma Wilkins reflects on the importance of scrutinising our failings, and where her hope lies.

I took part in a national survey about child abuse this week. To better understand the problem, its impact, and possible solutions, the researchers aim to interview 10,000 randomly-selected Australians.

The questions were very specific and intensely personal. I was asked whether a parent had ever told me they wished I’d never been born, whether a partner had ever blamed me for their violence, whether I’d ever been locked up or starved. I was asked about my height and my weight and my income and my health.

At the end, I was asked whether I’d found the interview upsetting. I’d answered “no” to all the awful questions, now I answered yes. The interviewer seemed surprised.

I was upset because the sheer detail and number of questions in the survey told a terrible story. A story of Australians who have suffered because people who are supposed to love them, who perhaps do love them in strange and messed-up ways, have deliberately hurt them.

I wondered how many participants had suffered, how many had spoken up, and how many, even with the assurance of anonymity, were still too ashamed or too afraid.

I also wondered how the researchers were faring. It’s easy to celebrate the love and compassion humans are capable of, it’s harder to scrutinise our failings. But to gain insight, to change for the better, we need to do both.

It’s a tension I’m familiar with. My faith has taught me that while we can and should work to change ourselves, our efforts will always fall short in this fallen world. It’s why my ultimate hope is not in humanity, but in a power beyond us.