Editorial: Government's proposed abuse inquiry doesn't go far enough
The Press [Wellington, New Zealand]
January 29, 2018
|A man abused in a Christchurch school in the 1970s says faith-based institutions must be included in a Government inquiry into historic child abuse in state care.|
|Bill Kilgallon is the director of the Catholic Church's National Office for Professional Standards, which investigates claims of abuse. He wants to make sure faith-based institutions are not missed from an inquiry promised by the new Government.|
The Catholic Church in New Zealand and abuse survivors are upset the goverment may not be expanding an inquiry into abuse of children in state care to include faith-based institutions.
EDITORIAL: It is disappointing that a government inquiry into past abuse of children will be limited to those cases which originated in state care. An opportunity to address systemic abuse in non-government institutions, and particularly religious organisations, is likely to be lost.
The inquiry is one of the Government's pledges for its first 100 days in office and will be announced shortly. However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already said that inquiries will begin with "the harm that we (the State) had direct responsibility for".
Victims' groups have called on the Government to follow Australia's example and include non-governmental organisations such as churches, charities, community groups and sports clubs in the inquiry. For now, at least, the Government appears to be ruling this out.
Ardern has said that the independent chair of the inquiry will have a remit to investigate beyond state institutions, but suggested this would happen when a child had been placed with other organisations as a result of decisions made in state care.She urged religious organisations "beyond the State" to consider what could be done to investigate abuse in their ranks – a suggestion that does not inspire confidence given the historical instances of cover-up and denial that have plagued some of those institutions.
An Australian royal commission into sexual abuse in particular, which delivered its 17-volume report before Christmas, heard evidence relating to 3489 organisations. It said that only 32.5 per cent of abuse reported by the survivors occurred in government-run organisations. Abuse was far more common in religious institutions, making up 58 per cent of the reports.
Thirty-seven per cent of the total of more than 9000 witnesses were abused in Catholic Church institutions, and 8.6 per cent in Anglican Institutions. The Salvation Army and other denominations accounted for smaller proportions.
The Australian inquiry has revealed what it described as a "national tragedy" of institutional harm to children and young people. It has spawned hundreds of police prosecutions.
Had it been limited to state-run institutions, thousands of survivors would have been denied a voice. Perhaps half the cases of abuse reported to it would have been inadmissible. The report's primary recommendations aimed at religious organisations could not have been made.
In other words, a large part of the national tragedy of child sexual abuse in Australia would have gone unaddressed. This is despite the wrongs of the past having an enduring impact not just on the people concerned, but on society as a whole.
In New Zealand, the now-defunct Confidential Listing and Assistance Service (CLAS), which heard evidence from more than 1100 people between 2008 and 2011, identified "an alarming amount of abuse and neglect, with extreme levels of violence" in past abuse. It said the ongoing costs to society, both personal and in financial terms, were "huge".
The evidence from the Australian inquiry, the New Zealand CLAS experiment, and from other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom's Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse, suggests that abuse has been endemic in our societies for generations. The Australians heard evidence from survivors aged seven to 93.
Limiting investigation to the state sector will reveal only part – perhaps less than half – of the picture. Sooner or later, the other organisations which harboured or unwittingly hosted abusers within their ranks will have to face their day of reckoning.