Patricia Henderson works to heal the lives of abused children and their families. An outspoken social worker and mother of six, she is driven by the belief that the deepest desire of children is for safe nurture by their own people; and a determination that families and communities should own and address the issues preventing this. Her pioneering work over 30 years has helped to change the way New Zealand hears the voices of young victims and deals with abuse and violence.
Patricia (Patsy) Henderson is director and co-founder of the Miriam Center Child Abuse Research and Treatment Trust, in the northern New Zealand city of Whangarei. The outspoken social worker has raised six children and has never been afraid to challenge the way the authorities deal with abuse cases. As far back as the 1970s, she was calling for therapists to work with the sex offenders and entire families where abuse had occurred – not simply to "rescue" the child by removing it. Patsy is often called on to provide evidence in court as an expert witness in abuse cases. She says the hardest thing about her job is being called a liar in court – by lawyers defending men who have been sexually abusing children: men who have earlier wept in her office as they confessed their guilt. "To have a lawyer raise an eyebrow at a jury, and suggest you are lying is personally battering. Especially, when the next day, the same lawyer will refer another abused child to me for help. To them it is just part of the legal game. But for a child, not being believed is the worst thing in the world. I say to offenders: 'You hold this child's life in the palm of your hand. You can own up to what you have done and save her, and redeem yourself. Prison can even be therapeutic.'" Some men, says Patsy, accept the challenge and do their time without a court battle. In such cases, she says, healing for the child and her family, and eventually the abuser, becomes possible. The pioneering New Zealand social worker was awarded a Churchill fellowship in 1998 to research child abuse and the law in the United Kingdom. In 2003, she received an award from Auckland's University of Technology as a distinguished social practitioner, committed to just practice.
Miriam Centre Child Abuse Research and Treatment Trust