After years of pressure to investigate child abuse, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is finally underway; thus begins the long process of healing for many victims. The Commissioners have been appointed for three years with their goal being to “expose the response of the institution in which the abuse occurred and identify the lessons which can be learned from that response in an endeavour to ensure that abuse does not happen again in any institution” as told by the Chair of the Commission, the Hon. Justice Peter McClellan, in his opening address.
Two days ago the Victorian Parliament released an inquiry, into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, entitled ‘Betrayal of Trust’. The inquiry’s key recommendations include:
. MANDATORY reporting of child sex abuse;
. EXCLUDING organisations such as the Catholic Church from any civil action statute of limitations;
. HAVING alternative avenues of justice for individuals who don’t wish to take legal action;
. GREATER monitoring of organisations and enhancement of prevention systems.
The inquiry states that government groups, including the Salvation Army and the Catholic Church, have previously failed to adequately deal with systematic child abuse and that it was “beyond dispute that some trusted organisations made a deliberate choice not to follow processes for reporting and responding to allegations of criminal child abuse”. It went on to say that “There has been been a substantial body of credible evidence presented to the inquiry and ultimately concessions made by senior representatives of religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, that they had taken steps with the direct objective of concealing wrongdoing.”
The most senior Catholic in Victoria, the Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart today spoke to media about the report: “I fully acknowledge that leaders in the church made mistakes — these are indefensible.” The church has pledged to support all recommendations made by the report, however will not agree to implementing them as they are, saying that they would still “need to engage with Government to bring the best outcome for all of those involved.”
This comes less than a month after the Catholic Church submitted suggested reforms to current processes surrounding their priests being accused of paedophelia. It is now up to the government and the Royal Commission to scrutinise both the submission by the church, and the recommendations made by the Victorian Government, and come to a decision whether to implement the proposed changes.
The commissioners continue to call for any people or organisations who wish to tell the Royal Commission of their experiences of child sexual abuse in an institutional context, including those within government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations. Since April they have conducted 742 private session, have 524 people waiting for an appointment, have had over 1,300 people call or write to report their experiences and have had a further 6,362 phone calls, 2,775 written and email enquiries made.
Whilst addressing a conference on child abuse and neglect, Justice Peter McClellan said of the number that it “may not surprise many in this audience. But it speaks to the size of the problem and the difficulty the community has found in confronting and dealing with these issues.” He also believes that child abuse is not well understood within our communities and said that “It is plain that many in the community do not understand the potential for abuse to occur, the frequency with which it does occur, and the consequences for victims and their families.”
The Royal Commission is expected to present an interim report by the 30th of June next year, already they have advised that an additional 100 staff members are needed for that to happen, stating that the process looks to be much longer and costlier than they had first thought.
If you or anyone you know would like further information regarding the commission head to their website www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au