Official documents, letters about Victor Lvovich Makarov
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Parents in denial

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He was revered as one of Sydney's most distinguished music teachers - and even multiple criminal charges of sexual abuse against Victor Makarov failed to deter some stubbornly loyal parents.

In acts of persistent defiance, families continued sending their children to Makarov's classes while he was on bail after being charged with aggravated sexual intercourse, indecent assault and gross indecency with teenage students.

The Russian-born maestro's bail conditions permitted him to carry on giving lessons as long as another adult was present to keep an eye on him.

Psychologists argue that some parents view sexual abuse of their children as a betrayal of trust almost too overwhelming to believe.

Heather Gridley, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Victoria, says: "It's not an uncommon thing to find that people will bind together in the face of mounting evidence and will almost defiantly refuse to believe accusations because it's too hard a cognitive leap to take."
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This leap is particularly hard when sexual abuse carries such an enormous stigma, with perpetrators labelled as perverts, or monsters, without any trace of humanity, she says. "If you know someone personally and have come to respect them, it's a very difficult change in perception to accept."

Gridley says sexual abuse most commonly takes place within the victims' families. But external cases can trigger a subconscious reaction by parents to ignore the problem even when it should be clear that something is wrong.

"It's easier not to know," she says. "Parents can miss the most obvious symptoms."

This reaction has been evident in cases of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, who parishioners trust with a passionate religious faith. As a result, parents may feel that to acknowledge abuse is a threat to their trust in God.

Within the auspices of the church, a culture of denial has been blamed for keeping abuse under wraps for years - a report to the synod last year on 104 cases involving the Anglican church in Melbourne identified a culture of dismissal, denial and avoidance.

A similar inability to face facts has been identified in cases involving sports coaches and even among cases of wider community abuse, such as the scandal surrounding age-old "customs" on Pitcairn Island.

Whether by priests, teachers, family friends or relatives, sexual abuse is likely to trigger feelings of guilt and responsibility among parents, which may make the problem worse.

A clinical psychologist, Greta Goldberg, has been dealing with childhood trauma and relationship conflict for 30 years. She says children who detect their mothers' and fathers' distress can often blame themselves for opening up a can of worms.

In the case of somebody who commands international renown, acceptance that the abuse has happened is even tougher, she says. "It requires a whole rearrangement of belief systems and values to demonise a piano teacher who you thought of as famous."

Such denial can tear families apart and can prevent children from receiving the help they may need, she explains.

"People often stay in denial and the whole system breaks up. People leave their husbands or their wives. Denial is a form of abuse in itself."

 

Victor Makarov piano pianist professor

for e-mail: s.ivanov200@mail.ru