Parliamentary inquiry to investigate Esther House conversion practices

The Western Australian government will investigate the operations of The Esther Foundation, a Perth based residential facility that claims to provide support for women and girls experiencing mental health concerns and substance abuse challenges.

The facility has been running for over two decades, and is linked to the Without Walls church in North Perth. The government’s announcement that a Parliamentary inquiry will look into the facility comes as previous clients share stories as mental, physical and sexual abuse, and reports of LGBTQ+ conversion practices being practiced in the past.

On Thursday 14 April Communities Minister Simone McGurk referred to matter to the health and education standing committee, the move supported by Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson.

McGurk said the committee will examine complaints from former residents, staff and volunteers, as well as the steps taken by the organisation in response.

The inquiry will also examine the suitability of existing regulatory and legislative frameworks, and what changes may be required.

“Since I was made aware of these disturbing allegations and invited former residents of the Esther Foundation to contact me, a large number have taken up that offer and shared significant matters of concern, and I thank them for their courage.” McGurk said.

“All people, especially children, have the right to feel safe and be treated with respect. I want to assure the women who shared their stories with me that the State Government is taking this matter seriously.”

The organisation, which is still operating, issued an apology in March, saying they supported any investigation into the role previous leaders played in the management of the facility.

“We stand in support of any former resident who has suffered hurt, abuse or anguish,” the Esther Foundation said in a statement.

“We are taking decisive steps to learn more about what happened in the years under the former leadership, bring resolution to anyone affected where this is possible, and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of our current and future participants.”

The organisation has encouraged anyone who had negative treatment in the past to share their experiences with any investigation.

Among the accusation leveled at the facility is claims of abuse, a lack of qualified staff, stories of people being told they were possessed by the devil, and indigenous culture was linked to the devil. To date over 250 women have come forward with claims of abuse.

Under question is the practice of government departments referring vulnerable young women to the facility, as well as the government’s provision of two properties that the organisation continue to pay only a peppercorn rent.

For almost three decades the foundation was run by Patricia Bevan, and her now ex-husband Rod Lavater. Over the years the facility received millions of dollars of state government and federal funding. It currently receives a $4 million dollar grant from the federal government.

It was also personally championed by former Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett, who subsequently help facilitate funding for the centre. Barnett has told the media he was unaware of any ill treatment occurring.

OIP Staff

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