Centrepoint survivors on speaking out and reconciliation

Centrepoint survivors want justice for the children who suffered abuse, writes Anke Richter.

Three survivors from an infamous New Zealand sex cult are breaking their silence to call for restorative justice for the children who were abused.

Twenty-one years have passed since Centrepoint was shut down; nine years since its guru Bert Potter died. It has taken that long for more of his victims to speak out about the Albany cult and the leader and nine people who were eventually jailed.

In an unprecedented #metoo moment for New Zealand, survivors have made a collective plea for intergenerational restorative justice. Nearly 40 people out of the hundreds who lived at Centrepoint from 1977 to 2000 have signed an open letter, which went public on Thursday night, asking former members to acknowledge their trauma and pain, including child sexual abuse.

Christchurch GP Caroline Ansley wrote the letter with two other Centrepoint survivors

who are featured in an upcoming TVNZ docudrama Heaven and Hell – The Centrepoint Story.

Ansley said realising she was not the only one who was abused was empowering.

“I had to ask myself what’s worse – fear of exposure or the disappoinment of not advocating for the right thing.”

The trio ask in their letter that former Centrepoint members consider “their obligations towards the children of the community” and acknowledge the resulting social, emotional and psychological difficulties many still experience as adults.

“We ask you to hear our voices. We ask you to set aside your complex feelings surrounding this issue and acknowledge our realities. We ask that you work with us to find ways to enable healing and restoration of the history.”

The letter has been published on the Centrepoint Restoration Project website and is addressed to “all former Centrepoint adults who have an interest in open dialogue about the negative impacts of Centrepoint on many of the former children of the community”.

A 2010 Massey University study revealed that one in three children at Centrepoint were sexually abused.

Drugs like LSD and ecstasy were manufactured on the property and taken in group experiments that involved youngsters.

“This potent mix of social control, parental child neglect, drug use and hyper-sexuality set the scene for child abuse to occur,” the letter states.

Ansley said, as a doctor, she often heard stories about her patients’ abuse histories.

“They’re stuck at inaction and inertia, confused or helpless,” she said. “There are protective shutdown mechanisms at play. Some may feel that they’ve done their bit because they said or wrote something 20 years ago.”

The signatories, some of them anonymous but known to the authors, include Louise Winn. She was only 11 when she was brought to Bert Potter’s hut by his wife Margie. She was later also sexually abused by his son John Potter and other men.

To keep predators away at night, the girl barricaded herself with junk in her caravan on the property or escaped into the bush.

No formal or individual restorative justice process between the first and the second generation has taken place yet.

For former member Simon Horrocks it is overdue.

“We’re getting older, we better sort it out before we go,” said the 73-year-old paraplegic.

“The experiment that we set up as a community resulted in some terrible events that hurt people. And I’m deeply sorry for those who feel that hurt.”

Horrocks is one of the few Centrepoint adults who put his name under the letter.

“While I wasn’t directly responsible for the abuse, I was responsible for the environment where that took place. So I have some responsibility to own.”

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