More than 5000 victims come forward to child abuse royal commission

By Beau Donelly
Sydney Morning Herald
April 12, 2016

More than 5000 people have reported child sexual abuse in private sessions to the royal commission.
Photo by Dmitri Maruta

The nine-year-old girl who always volunteered to sit on the priest's lap to steer his car – knowing what he would do to her – because she wanted to protect her younger cousin from being touched. 

A family driven out of town by their neighbours after the father reported a local teacher for abusing his daughter. The Aboriginal boys on the mission who laughed off the abuse at the hands of their superintendent. A toddler tied up in the kitchen and abused by her foster father.

These are some of the more than 5000 stories recounted by victims in private sessions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse over the past three years.

The abuse was perpetrated by adults against children. It happened across the nation in homes, schools, places of worship, sporting clubs, workplaces, orphanages, health services, juvenile justice centres.

Data from the royal commission shows survivors were, on average, aged 10 years old when they were first abused. A third of girls and almost one fifth of boys were aged under eight.

It also shows that:

  • On average, the abuse continued for 2.8 years.
  • Most people were abused multiple times.
  • About 90 per cent of offenders were male.
  • It took survivors an average 24 years to disclose their abuse.
  • Almost nine in 10 survivors said they now experience poor mental health.  
  • 60 per cent say they have relationship difficulties.

The private sessions, which are held in motel rooms in all capital cities and many regional areas, allow victims and people who are aware of child abuse to share their stories one-on-one with a commissioner.

The royal commission last week completed its 5000th session in Brisbane, with a man in his 60s who was abused in out-of-home care in the 1960s.

Sessions have also been held for prisoners in 31 correctional centres in Victoria, NSW, and the ACT.

Chief executive Philip Reed said the private sessions were a vital component to the royal commission's work and that survivors reported that sharing their story helped with the healing process.

"Every story helps the royal commission develop practical recommendations for change," Mr Reed said.

The royal commission has now made more than 1000 referrals to authorities, including police, after hearing testimony in the public hearings and private sessions.

Information provided in the private sessions will be de-identified and presented as part of the royal commission's final report, due in December 2017.


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