THE opportunity afforded by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been unprecedented.
Thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse, violated in many mainstream institutions, have spoken of the chilling crimes which, over decades, progressively devastated their lives.
Those stories have driven a public discourse about abusive power, compounded betrayal, systemic failure and the appalling human cost of institutional inhumanity.
The commission has heard this evidence, and Australians and the world have listened aghast. We are now looking to our governments and institutions for the transformational change needed to secure perpetrator and institutional accountability, true justice, fair and equitable redress and optimal victim support.
Last week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed a national redress scheme for survivors of abuse will be established by 2018. His urging of the opposition, states, territories and non-government bodies to support it, is more than timely.
With the commission’s final report to be handed to government on December 15th this year, time is limited for the commission to drive change. Governments and institutions must step up now and act.
Survivors have waited way too long already. Many have died in the waiting line. Others struggle daily just to be okay and get through the day.
Government and institutional action must be comprehensive and informed by the stories, findings and insights revealed by the commission, as well as the trust and faith so many have put in the commission. It is currently holding a final public hearing into the Catholic Church.
The church has been named in 2400 of the more than 6000 private sessions held by the commission, and has been the subject of 16 of its 50 public hearings to date.
In 35 years from 1980-2015, 4444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse relating to 1000 Catholic institutions. Of the 1880 identified alleged perpetrators, with 500 unknowns, the majority were religious brothers or priests, with close to a third lay people and 5 per cent religious sisters.
These statistics do not take into account those victims who have not come forward or have died, nor the emotional and physical neglect, brutality and other outrages which often accompanied sexual abuse.
In an era of “false news” these statistics are undeniable. But statistics reflect more than numbers; they are lives lost and half lived, souls shattered and communities fragmented. The shock, horror, disgust, anger and outrage on their release is unparalleled.
Claims that the Catholic Church has been unfairly targeted by the commission can no longer be defended. The onus now is on the Church to embrace the cultural, philosophical and structural changes needed to address centuries of secrecy, silencing and concealment.
The redress provided under the Church’s Melbourne Response and Towards Healing, and the process of seeking and attaining it, have been criticised. And the Catholic Church is just one of many institutions to have caused great harm.
The world is looking to Australia and its institutions. The opportunity to honour those who have been betrayed, harmed and abandoned is pressing. It is time to make real redress and prioritise healing and justice for victims, and ensure that institutions of the present and the future are safe for all children.