Sexual abuse survivors fear being 'deserted' after royal commission ends

By Melissa Davey
December 11, 2017

Clergy abuse survivors Gordon Hill and Paul Levey, who started a men’s support group for survivors of child sexual abuse in Sunbury, Victoria.
Photo by Lloyd Jones

Advocates say commission’s closure will create ‘sense of loss’ and express concerns there will be insufficient support

Survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates have spoken of their fears of being left in the lurch once the child abuse royal commission’s work officially draws to a close.

On Friday the royal commissioners will deliver their final report to the governor general in Canberra, marking the end of their five-year inquiry into how abuse was able to occur in more than 4,000 Australian institutions.

Dr Judy Courtin, a lawyer who has represented dozens of survivors and their families, said that through public hearings and private sessions the commission had shown people that their stories of abuse were believed, and that they were not to blame. It would be tough for many survivors once that focus ended, she said.

“It’s like having a favourite aunty who you totally trust and believe in, and they back and support you, and then suddenly they’re not there,” Courtin said. “There is a risk people will just feel deserted.”

The commission had been a valuable source of support for legal professionals too, Courtin said, being an authority where submissions about abuse and failures of organisations could be referred for further investigation.

“People are losing a powerful ally in the commission,” she said.

A spokesman for the social services minister, Christian Porter, told Guardian Australia supports for survivors and their families were encompassed in redress scheme legislation introduced in October, which includes access to counselling and psychological services. The legislation was referred to a Senate inquiry by the shadow social services minister, Jenny Macklin, over concerns about the opt-in nature of the scheme for institutions, and the amount of redress available being inadequate. The inquiry is due to report in March.

In the meantime, “everyone will feel a sense of loss” once the commission’s work ended, said Leonie Sheedy, co-founder of the Care Leavers Australasia Network.

“We have bonded with many of the commission staff and when they exit our lives that will be hard for many people,” she said.

“We will even miss the security guard, who has been there for hearings from Melbourne to Ballarat and who greets us with a smile dressed in his lovely purple shirt. A lot of people have left the royal commission over the past two years as their work winds down and we had formed trust with many of them.”

Paul Levey, a victim of the notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, said he felt a similar sense of loss after travelling to Rome in 2016 to watch Cardinal George Pell give evidence. After Pell was declared by his doctor to be too unwell to fly to Australia to give evidence in person, a massive campaign erupted to raise money to fly survivors to Pell to watch his testimony. Comedian singer-songwriter Tim Minchin and radio personality Meshel Laurie helped to fuel the crowdfunding.

Levey started a men’s support group for survivors of child sexual abuse in Sunbury, Victoria, because available counselling services could not cope with demand.

“When we went to Rome there was a lot of support around us,” Levey said. “There was a lot of commotion … and it just exploded on us with the media and GoFundMe and everything like that. And then when we got home everyone sort of went their own way. I think that’s one of the things that a lot of people don’t realise about being in this situation you’re in. You have a group of people who are incredibly vulnerable and who are all survivors and … you’re all a support group for each other and you grow to love each other. But then [support drops away].”


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