Inquiry shone spotlight on child sex abuse
December 10, 2017
|Justice Peter McClellan AM (second left) addressing the public hearing into the nature, cause and impact of sexual abuse (Case Study 57) during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney.|
|Catholic church child abuse survivors (L-R) Andrew Collins, Phil Nagle, Gordon Hill and David Risdale after travelling to Rome to meet with Cardinal George Pell,|
Gabrielle Short hopes Australia doesn't forget. But more than anything she hopes it never happens again.
She is one of the tens of thousands of children sexually abused in more than 4000 Australian institutions.
The children who were not believed or were too scared to tell anyone, often for decades, if ever.
The organisations that turned a blind eye to the abuse as they put their reputation ahead of the protection of children.
The crimes. The cover-ups. The denials. The inaction or inadequate and unjust responses.
A national tragedy perpetuated over generations within many of Australia's most trusted institutions, to use the words of the judge who led the five-year child abuse royal commission.
This is not a case of a few "rotten apples".
"Society's major institutions have seriously failed," commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said recently.
"In many cases those failings have been exacerbated by a manifestly inadequate response to the abused person.
"The problems have been so widespread, and the nature of the abuse so heinous, that it is difficult to comprehend."
For Ms Short, growing up in children's homes and institutions meant living in fear every day.
It is not only the sexual abuse that haunts children for the rest of their lives, she points out. It is the physical, verbal and mental abuse.
Many victims suffered further harm and trauma because of the institution's response.
Known abusers were moved, allowing them to offend again.
Victims were ignored or punished for speaking up.
Crimes went unreported or police and child protection agencies failed to act.
Justice McClellan revealed the royal commission has evidence that at least in Sydney and Melbourne, there was for many years an understanding that the police would protect members of the church who may have offended.
"It reflected a more general community attitude that it would be detrimental to the entire community if 'its pillars' were exposed as criminals," he said.
"Assumed stability of society was seen to be more important that the protection of the child or justice for children through the prosecution of offenders."
Survivor and advocate Dr Cathy Kezelman has been shocked by the degree of immorality of so many of Australia's mainstream institutions.
"They actually prioritised their institution and sacrificed children and sacrificed victims effectively," the Blue Knot Foundation president said.
"You see the lives lost and the lives ruined.
"Institutions still in some cases have to be dragged kicking and screaming to effectively do the human thing and do the moral thing, and yet many of these institutions are meant to be our moral compass."
Victims' advocate Helen Last says the royal commission has helped expose the full picture of the abuse and its life-long impact, from the offender right through to the neglect that happened with institutions' responses over decades.
"We know now that the level of systemic abuse has been even more harmful in so many cases than the original assaults," the In Good Faith Foundation chief executive said.
Ms Last says some churches and religious orders have shown contrition and repentance, but believes sections of others are blocking internal reforms despite five years of royal commission hearings, investigations and calls for reform.
"Until the report comes out from the royal commission giving explicit direction to institutions to clean their house out, to reconstruct it, to call in fresh expert people, then things are going to stay the same."
Dr Kezelman hopes victims won't be traumatised again by the response of institutions and governments to the royal commission's final report, which will be released on Friday.
"Survivors have not only had crimes committed against them as children but many have been repeatedly retraumatised in disclosing or in seeking support or seeking justice.
"We just hope that this is not going to be another round of that retraumatisation because of the failure of governments and institutions to act and to really stand up and be accountable and responsible for the crimes under their watch."
Survivor Phil Nagle, who was abused by a Christian Brother in a Ballarat school, says the royal commission experience has been very emotional for victims.
He hopes survivors get all the counselling, compassion and care they need now that the inquiry has validated their stories of cover-ups as the Catholic Church tried to protect its reputation.
"Protecting a brand is no reason to create more victims and to move your pedophile clergy and members around to let them sexually abuse more kids. That's as evil as doing the crime yourself."
The damage can never be repaired, Mr Nagle says, but victims can be supported and the offenders and those who covered up the abuse prosecuted.
Ms Short hopes victims won't be afraid to come forward now that the royal commission has shone a spotlight on the widespread child sexual abuse and helped improve society's understanding of it.
But she also worries people may forget when the spotlight has faded away.
"People have got to learn from all this. Something's got to come out of it.
"I just don't want it to ever happen again."