Saturday 28 November 2015
The Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM
Chair, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
Keynote Address: 'Trauma-informed justice'
International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation
"Broken Structures, Broken Selves: Complex Trauma in the 21st Century"
The Great War was to become known as the “war to end all wars”. That prophecy was wrong. The world continues to stumble from one violent tragedy to another.
Although the prophecy was wrong, as with many great events through history, the war stimulated and accelerated social change. Those changes came with a rapid increase in our knowledge and understanding of many issues. From the art of war to our knowledge of medicine, we can see major developments which occurred because of World War 1.
The war also produced great poets. One of them, Siegfried Sassoon gives us an insight into the inadequate contemporary understanding of the impact of the trauma of war. He wrote:
No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again’, -
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died, -
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
The cutting irony of Sassoon’s words reflects the experience of many soldiers. A pervasive assumption before the war was that “shell shock” experienced by soldiers in battle was a passing phenomenon from which the affected solider would soon recover.
The same sentiment can be found in the uninformed response to those who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychiatric illness as a result of a variety of traumatic experiences, including sexual abuse. A constant challenge for most of you responsible for diagnosing and treating patients affected by trauma is not only to help the survivor, but to ensure their family and the wider community have an effective understanding of the illness and its consequences. The cursory, “get over it and get on with life” response of family or the community becomes a significant, and on occasions, insurmountable barrier to the recovery of the victim. The depth of Sassoon’s response to war is reflected in the response of many suffering the consequences of betrayal by a trusted adult who sexually assaulted them when a child.
I recently spoke to a group of Supreme Court Judges at their annual conference. Of course I talked about the work of the Royal Commission. I also took the opportunity to discuss an issue of fundamental importance to our legal system. As much as your professions have a responsibility to educate the community about the problems faced by those who experience trauma, the legal system and particularly the judges, have a responsibility to listen and understand what you are telling us. When relevant your learning must inform our decisions. Any outcome which ignores the science may inflict injustice on the litigants. The obligation is readily accepted, its implementation is more difficult.
The inevitable question is how do lawyers learn about the work of other professionals that is relevant to their own functions. How do we ensure that judges make decisions which are informed by and consistent with the learning of scientists from any relevant discipline? How do we ensure that the knowledge you have of human behaviour and the response to trauma is known by the judge when assessing the credibility of a witness, deciding the money damages for a plaintiff or sentencing an offender? It may surprise you to learn that the issue has not often been addressed by lawyers. The consequence has been that, particularly in relation to sexual assault, there have been some significant difficulties and almost certainly injustices.
The difficulties have not been for lack of opportunity. Opportunity was provided but the law failed to adequately respond.
The law functions through the rules made by both Parliament and by judges. Many of the judges’ rules control civil and criminal trial process, money damages and sentencing outcomes. They are fundamental to our justice system. They are part of our Common Law.
The practice of judges relying on their own understandings of human behaviour, however ill-informed, to determine the content of decisions and judge made legal rules is centuries old. The practice of judges, at least explicitly, relying on scientific research to make decisions and determine legal rules has a much more complicated history.
In the mid-1700s the celebrated English jurist Sir William Blackstone discussed the correct approach to ascertaining the truthfulness of a woman who alleges sexual assault. He said:
“if the witness be of good fame; if she presently discovered the offence, and made search for the offender … these and the like are concurring circumstances, which give greater probability to her evidence. But on the other side, if she be of evil fame, and stand unsupported by others; if she concealed the injury for a considerable time after she had the opportunity to complain; if the place, where the act was alleged to be committed, was where it was possible she might be heard, and she made no outcry; these and the like circumstances carry a strong, but not conclusive presumption that her testimony is false or feigned.”
Similar sentiments can be found in judicial determinations two centuries later.
In 1879 an event occurred of fundamental importance in the development of our understanding of human behaviour. In Leipzig, the first laboratory solely dedicated to psychological research was founded by Wilhelm Wundt. In that laboratory Wundt and his students developed the empirical methodologies that allowed psychology to emerge as a discipline distinct from philosophy. The question was how would the law respond to the birth of the new science whose area of focus – human behaviour – was central to so many aspects of the law itself.
Matters moved relatively quickly. Less than two decades after the formation of Wundt’s laboratory, a murder trial in Munich, saw what was probably the first expert testimony given by a psychologist. And in Vienna in 1906, Freud gave a series of lectures to judges discussing the lessons psychology might offer the law in the context of fact-finding.
Despite these promising beginnings, by 1908 it was evident that the law was largely indifferent to the way in which psychology might be applied within its domain. That year Hugo Munsterberg, who had been a student of Wundt’s in Leipzig before moving to the United States to run the psychological laboratory at Harvard, published a book entitled On the Witness Stand: Essays on Psychology and Crime. Munsterberg was a strong advocate of forensic psychology and in particular psychological testimony. He had himself served as psychological consultant in two murder trials in the US. In his book Munsterberg described how experimental psychology had sufficiently matured to the point where it could now be deployed to serve “the practical needs of life”; education, medicine, art, economics and the law. But whilst the other disciplines had embraced psychology:
“The lawyer alone is obdurate. The lawyer and the judge and the juryman are sure that they do not need the experimental psychologist. They do not wish to see that in this field pre-eminently applied experimental psychology has made long strides … They go on thinking that their legal instinct and their common sense supplies them with all that is needed and somewhat more.”
As far as the law was concerned human behaviour was directly observable. Our common sense together with a judicial wisdom derived from legal experience was more than adequate. This sentiment is captured in the words of one judge who said that “[j]urors do not need psychiatrists to tell them how ordinary folk who are not suffering from mental illness are likely to react to the stresses and strains of life.”
Despite the advances psychology was making and the insights it was generating, judges continued to rely on their own observations and assumptions about human behaviour. The evidence of children, for example, was to be treated suspiciously because of “the possibility of a young child having a mistaken recollection of what happened.”
Standard legal texts contained quasi-psychological explanations of criminal behaviour. Discussing the relevance of post offence behaviour to a determination of guilt one Judge referred to the 1940 writings of Professor Wigmore (recognised as a great academic lawyer) who hypothesised that just as the commission of a crime leaves “traces of blood, wounds or rent clothing, which point back to the deed done by him” it will also leave “mental traces” which will manifest in subsequent conduct of the criminal.
Some of the assumptions judges make may be sound. Some accord neatly with a “common sense” view that would be prevalent in the wider community. But how do we know that our assumptions are correct?
The common law developed special rules for dealing with complaint in the context of sexual assault, in particular in circumstances where there was a delay between the occurrence of the assault and the time at which a complaint was made. A judge was required to warn the jury that delayed complaint was relevant to the jury’s assessment of the credibility of the complainant.
The rationale for this rule was the “general assumption that the victim of sexual offences will complain at the first reasonable opportunity, and that, if complaint is not then made a subsequent complaint is likely to be false.” The common law equated delay with falsity because of how judges assumed genuine victims of sexual offences behaved. The assumption was derived from the medieval doctrine of “hue and cry”. It is found in Sir William Blackstone’s remarks more than two centuries ago.
The issue of what judges know, how they come to know it, and the accuracy of that knowledge is also important in the sentencing process. For example, what judges know, or think they know, about the harm caused by child sexual abuse will, through the application of sentencing law and principle, become a determinative factor in the sentence an offender receives.
The decisions of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal indicate, particularly from the early 2000’s onwards, a greater willingness by judges to assume that harm flows from the sexual assault of a child, and display a greater level of certainty that this harm will manifest itself over time. However, this has not always been the position.
In a 1990 case that concerned a charge of homosexual intercourse with a boy under 10, for which the offender was sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment of two years, the sentencing Judge remarked that the experience had no doubt been traumatic, and that attention paid to details of the offence between time of offending and until trial would have exacerbated the trauma. Overall however, the Judge, uninformed by other than a layman’s speculation, took the view “that whilst scars may remain they will fade in time.”
A Royal Commission is the most significant method of inquiry available to governments. It allows the investigation of individual and institutional conduct. It is often used to investigate whether criminal conduct may have been committed. It also provides an opportunity to examine complex issues in a structured manner with the benefit of detailed research. It enables consultation with people and organisations with the knowledge and experience of the issues which the government believes requires detailed consideration. Through its forensic work it can identify institutional and individual failures. Its research and policy development programs enable it to bring forward recommendations for change aimed at improving future outcomes.
The Royal Commission which I chair has been resourced to perform all of these functions. Apart from examining the behaviour of institutions, which is fundamental to our work, we have the responsibility to bring together the learning across many disciplines; law, policing, education, human behaviour, effective regulation, amongst others, to provide a safer environment for our children. It is an opportunity for the lawyers to talk with the scientists so that our combined learning can be integrated into effective policy outcomes as well as informed decisions with respect to individuals, be they offender or survivor.
As many of you would be aware it is typical for Royal Commissions to receive evidence in public. However, conscious of the trauma and suffering associated with child sexual abuse and the difficulties many survivors have in telling their stories, the Commonwealth Parliament amended the Royal Commission Act 1902. It created a process that allows Commissioners to hear from survivors in private. It is referred to as a ‘private session’. Without such a process the ‘bearing witness’ and ‘truth telling’ component of the Royal Commission’s work could never have been achieved.
Guided by a trauma-informed approach, private sessions provide a safe, supportive environment where a person can tell their story in confidence to a Commissioner. For some survivors telling their story to a Commissioner in a private session is the first time they have disclosed their abuse. For others it is the first time in their life they have been believed. For many survivors, private sessions can be a powerful and healing experience.
We gave a lot of thought to how we would conduct private sessions. We need to be careful that we do not inadvertently re-traumatise the survivors. We sought professional advice from psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers and developed the following principles for the sessions:
We make sure that a survivor’s privacy and confidentiality is protected and that they have a clear understanding of the processes involved in sharing their story.
We conduct the sessions in modest hotel rooms or in special rooms set aside for private sessions in our Sydney office, to avoid creating an intimidating environment.
We treat survivors attending private sessions as “guests” of the Royal Commission, rather than as clients.
We tailor the sessions to the needs of the individual survivor. The survivor may opt for someone to speak on their behalf, or to have a support person present.
Survivors are invited to tell their story in whatever way they like, with minimal questioning or interruptions.
We have counsellors who work with people who have complex mental health issues who may need help to prepare for their private session.
We have counsellors who provide a debriefing at the end of the session. Counsellors also follow up with a phone call a week after the private session to check on the survivor’s welfare. We make referrals to follow-up counselling and legal services if required.
Survivors also receive a thank you pack and are invited to write a ‘Message to Australia’.
You may be surprised to learn that two thirds of people coming forward to a private session are men, many disclosing for the first time.
We hold private sessions for inmates in correctional centres. And we have conducted targeted individual and group sessions for an Aboriginal Community using a culturally trauma-informed model.
We also hold private sessions for children and young people between the ages of 11 and 17. We need to take extra steps to ensure their wellbeing. A counsellor conducts a child safety and wellbeing assessment, looking at the child’s cognitive, linguistic and emotional capacities. The counsellor also considers whether there are any concerns about risks of harm and whether there are sufficient protective factors within the child or young person’s family and/or community to keep them safe and supported.
The Commissioners have already heard from over 4,200 people in private sessions. There are an additional 1,400 on the waiting list. And each week, approximately 40 new people are referred for a private session.
In England and Wales, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has recently been established to review the extent to which institutions in those countries have discharged their duty of care to protect children against sexual abuse. It is proposing to use many similar methods to those we have employed in Australia including private sessions.
Apart from private sessions, the Commissioners’ understanding of child sexual abuse is also gained through public hearings. Public hearings allow us to examine in detail the response of one or more institutions to allegations of abuse. They help advance our understanding of systemic issues. Those include how institutions recruit, screen, induct and manage staff who work with children; the ways in which institutions deal with staff who have been accused of abuse; and how institutions handle complaints, claims or civil actions. Public hearings reveal the cultures and attitudes that have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the covering up and the “normalisation” of child sexual abuse. Public hearings also have a significant role in driving institutional and regulatory change. Many institutions who have not themselves been the subject of a public hearing have already responded to the problems revealed in similar institutions and have implemented change or reviews intended to improve the safety of the children in their care.
The Royal Commission has held 34 public hearings. Hearings have been held in every state in Australia. This week we commenced our 35th public hearing – an inquiry into the response of the Catholic Church in the Melbourne Archdiocese to allegations of sexual abuse. We have so far reported on 15 case studies. Others are close to completion. These reports are available on our website as soon as they have been tabled in Parliament.
Apart from private sessions and public hearings, the other significant component of our work is our research and policy development program. This has the assistance of national and international experts across many disciplines. The program has four broad areas of focus: prevention, identification, response and justice for victims.
Many of you here today may have participated in our policy and research initiatives, and I thank you for your contributions. Your experience, expertise and knowledge is highly valued.
Over the next twelve months, the Royal Commission will publish research relating to the following:
impacts of institutional child sexual abuse on victims/survivors
trauma-informed approaches and practice for responding to child sexual abuse
culturally responsive treatment and support for victims from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
capturing practice learnings from the Royal Commission support model.
You will be interested in some of the information we have gathered to this stage. Our most recent analysis of 2,794 private sessions tells us:
Around 62% of survivors are male, and around 37% are female.
Around 30% of survivors are aged between 50 and 59. Almost 25% are aged between 60 and 69. Around 20% are aged between 40 and 49.
The average age at abuse was just over 10 for males and just under 10 for females.
The most common decade in which abuse reported to us first occurred was the 1960s (around 28%) followed by the 1970s (23%).
The most common type of institution in which abuse occurred – at around 45% - was out of home care (this includes orphanages, children’s homes or foster care).
Around 60% of the institutions in which sexual abuse occurred were faith-based organisations, followed by 23% which were managed by government.
Most offenders were male - around 89%.
Half of the abuse involved penetration and around two thirds involved fondling.
On average, children were abused over a period of 2.8 years.
I must emphasise that these statistics are of those who have made contact with us and come to a private session. It may not be representative of all survivors.
IMPACTS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
It would not be a surprise for this audience to learn that an analysis of our private sessions data indicates that impacts on behaviour and mental health functioning are the most commonly reported impacts by survivors. Many people who have been abused report post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and high rates of alcohol and substance abuse.
An often unrecognised impact of child sexual abuse is the adverse impact on ‘human capital’. These are the skills, knowledge and experience that equip people to engage and participate in society. Compared to non-abused groups, victims of abuse are less likely to achieve secondary school qualifications, gain a higher school certificate, attend university and gain a university degree.
We have also learnt about problems with sexual identity, sexual adjustment and links to prostitution as a result of being abused as a child.
You all know of the many other impacts including suicide, mood and personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, re-victimisation, parenting difficulties and intergenerational trauma.
My researchers tell me that there is comparatively little research on the specific impacts of child sexual abuse in an institutional context. Although likely to be comparable with the impacts of child sexual abuse that occurs in other contexts, the characteristics of the impacts may be different. Abuse by a respected priest or teacher may have a different consequence than abuse at home. Trust in all of society’s institutions can be lost. We also know that parents and extended family may experience grief, guilt, shame and rage at not being able to prevent the abuse, not recognising its occurrence or for engaging the child with the institution where the abuse occurred. These effects may persist over time and are associated with a series of stressful life events. A study of 39 parents of children abused in a day care setting found that many families relocated after the abuse in response to media coverage and the legal process. Parents reported changing jobs, taking excessive time off work due to stress, and losing social connections.
People who have been abused in religious institutions report spiritual impacts – in particular, negative impacts on their belief in God. They report reduced engagement and involvement with the church. They report feelings of distrust and anger towards the church. This can lead to a crisis in faith, increasing discomfort with religious rituals, and rage at the church for its perceived role in occasioning and concealing the abuse. For some, this can lead to the abandonment of faith altogether.
Given the profoundly damaging and often long lasting impacts of child sexual abuse for some survivors, the question must be asked - how should we respond to people who have been abused? How can we alleviate the devastating effects? Our terms of reference require us to look at justice for victims, including amongst other issues, the provision of redress.
The Royal Commission realised early in our work that the issue of redress was critical for survivors. Many survivors have indicated an urgent need for assistance. They need professional help to heal, and to live a productive and fulfilled life. Many want the institution to be recognised to have failed them. They want it to be required to make a payment in recognition of that failure.
Our redress consultation process was extensive. Our recommendations were developed with the benefit of information gathered from private sessions, public hearings and private roundtables.
The Government released our final report on redress in September. The fundamental need identified in the report is for a single national redress scheme to be established by the Australian Government but funded by the institutions in which survivors were abused.
The national scheme we recommend is an opportunity for governments and institutions to come together to provide justice for survivors. Each institution, whether government, faith-based or secular, would contribute to the scheme in proportion to the number of survivors abused in that institution. Non-government institutions would be required to contribute more than half the costs of redress.
A national scheme fulfils two key requirements necessary to ensure equal justice for survivors. A single national scheme would ensure that the institution in which abuse occurred would not be the decision maker in respect of a survivor’s entitlement. A conflict of this nature has been a troublesome aspect of some redress schemes in the past. The other important requirement is that survivors would be treated equally regardless of the institution, or place in Australia, in which they were abused.
The modelling undertaken by our actuarial consultants indicates that a national scheme may have 60,000 eligible claimants: 21,880 from NSW, 15,980 from Victoria, 8,470 from Queensland, 6,410 from Western Australia, 3,800 from South Australia, 1,750 from Tasmania, 1,130 from the ACT, and 580 from the Northern Territory.
We recommend that a scheme contain three main elements: a direct personal response, counselling and psychological care as and when required, and modest monetary payments. The Commissioners have recommended a minimum payment of $10,000, a maximum payment of $200,000 with an average payment of $65,000.
The funding of counselling and psychological care for survivors when required has not generally been an element of the redress schemes previously provided by some state governments.
We recommend that counselling should be available throughout a survivor’s life. As you all know, trauma associated with sexual abuse is not a medical condition that can always be cured at a specific point in time so that it will not recur. Counselling should be available when the need arises.
The Commissioners made a number of recommendations about the professionals who provide counselling and psychological care. We recommend that, without limiting survivor choice, psychological care be provided by practitioners with the qualifications and expertise to work with clients with complex trauma. And we recommend that survivors be allowed flexibility and choice, with no fixed limits on the counselling and care provided. The Commissioners also recommend that treating practitioners be required to conduct ongoing assessment and review and ensure treatment is necessary and effective.
Some state governments and some institutions have previously responded by making redress payments. The Commissioners decided that, to differing degrees, all previous responses have been inadequate. Apart from lacking effective psychological care, the monetary payments have been available to only a limited group of people and have, in our view, been less than appropriate. The different state schemes have had inconsistent outcomes and for that reason, amongst others, fail the test of reasonable fairness. Fairness requires equal justice for all survivors.
The Commissioners recognise that some survivors have already received monetary payments through previous or existing schemes. For that reason, we recommended that any previous payment must be deducted from the monetary payment under a national scheme. Our recommendations are designed to ensure that all survivors are treated fairly, but we also recognise the contributions which some governments and institutions have already made.
I encourage you to take a look at our final recommendations on redress. You will find the report on our website. Our recommendations are now with all Australian governments. I understand that consultation and discussion are underway.
ADVOCACY AND SUPPORT
During our consideration of redress and civil litigation, it became clear that victims and survivors have a range of needs beyond being able to access counselling and psychological care as part of a redress scheme.
In response to these concerns, the Commission has instigated a separate project to investigate the adequacy of advocacy and support services for victims and survivors. This project will also look at the needs of survivors’ family members and broader communities. Last month we released an issues paper which discusses advocacy and support and therapeutic treatment services for victims and survivors.
You can find details about our issues paper on our website. Our recommendations on this issue will be contained in the Royal Commission’s final report in 2017.
It would be remiss of me to talk about the treatment of child sexual abuse without reference to prevention.
As I mentioned earlier, prevention is one of four broad areas of focus within the Royal Commission’s policy and research program. It includes the sub-themes of primary prevention and preventing recidivism. We are currently exploring a number of questions in this area including:
How do we prevent people with sexual thoughts about children from committing an act of child sexual abuse?
How do we prevent children from engaging in problem sexual behaviour, sexually abusive behaviour and/or sexual offending?
How do we make organisations ‘child safe’?
How do we change community attitudes to better protect children from sexual abuse?
WORKING WITH CHILDREN CHECKS
Working with Children Checks are one of a range of strategies needed to make organisations child-safe. The Royal Commission’s final report on Working with Children Checks was released by Government on 17 August 2015. The report makes 36 recommendations designed to strengthen Working with Children Check regimes throughout Australia.
As some of you may be aware, each state and territory presently has its own working with children scheme, although the South Australian approach is very modest. Each of the eight schemes operates independently of the others. The schemes are inconsistent and complex. There is inadequate information sharing and monitoring of Working with Children Check cardholders.
This lack of consistency and integration raises significant issues. In a country of 24 million people with mobility amongst those who work with children, the present system means that children are being afforded different levels of protection depending on the state or territory in which they are located. A further consequence is that if an organisation, say the Scouts, has a national gathering, it cannot guarantee parents that every adult supervisor has the same level of Working with Children accreditation. It means that people who have responsibility for children in more than one jurisdiction must have multiple checks. I have previously described the lack of a national framework for Working with Children Checks as ‘a blight upon the communities’ efforts to provide effectively for the protection of children’.
The recommendations in our report seek to remedy these problems. We have recommended a national approach. That approach would involve the establishment of a centralised database similar to, and which could utilise, the present CrimTrac arrangements. The effect would be one accreditation which would operate across jurisdictions.
Because any Working with Children Check scheme can be constructed to provide that a fee is taken for the service, the proposal would come at a minimal cost to government.
We have asked that governments implement the majority of our recommendations within 12 months. The Commissioners are firm in the view that the current disparate arrangements should be modified to bring consistency and avoid duplication. We trust that the suggested changes designed to enhance the safety of children can be taken forward through effective negotiation between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories. Although a Working with Children Check is not a guarantee of children’s safety, it is accepted as an essential step in constructing a child safe environment.
The Royal Commission is painting a bleak picture of our communities’ past management of the safety of children in some Australian institutions. However, we know that positive changes are taking place in response to our work. I will mention some of them.
Since the Royal Commission began, I have referred over 760 matters to authorities, mostly to the police. This has resulted in a number of arrests and charges. Many police investigations have been instituted.
Organisations working directly with people who are abused tell us that the Royal Commission has encouraged people to talk about abuse. For many the reluctance to talk, a product of the stigma attached to the issue, has been lifted. Survivors are now encouraged to seek support.
Karen Willis, the chief executive of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, has said that the Royal Commission has helped remove the shame felt by victims of child sexual abuse. She says more people are calling the Rape and Domestic Violence Service as a result.
There is a heightened awareness about child safety amongst organisations providing services to children. Both Bravehearts and Child Wise have seen a significant increase in training and child safety certification requests since we commenced our work. Many institutions are reviewing their approach to ensuring the safety of children in their care.
Organisations have taken concrete steps to better protect children.
In September this year, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney announced the creation of a new child protection office which follows a widespread Archdiocesan review undertaken since the Royal Commission looked at the Archdiocese. This new office will work to achieve best practice when dealing with child protection, education, training, working with parishes and responding pastorally to survivors of abuse.
The Australian Olympic Committee has responded. Following the Swimming Australia public hearing the AOC has required Working with Children Checks for all coaches, staff and officials prior to their joining the Australian Olympic Team for the Rio games next year. The President of the AOC has engaged directly with the Commission to ensure that effective practices and procedures are in place for all of the sports which operate under the banner of the Olympic movement.
Many institutions have come to recognise the traumatic and destructive impact of child sexual abuse. Since our public hearings began, many institutions have taken responsibility for past wrongs and have apologised for the hurt and suffering they caused children in their care. The most recent apology came from the Salvation Army (Southern Territory)’s Commissioner Floyd Tidd during a public hearing in October into a number of children’s homes operating between 1940 and 1990.
Other organisations have offered increased compensation by reopening previously settled cases. In July this year, the Christian Brothers announced a total of 64 Western Australian cases which had previously been settled had been re-examined. Similar responses have come from an Anglican Diocese, the Salvation Army and some Catholic Diocese. During the public hearing into the Melbourne Response, the Catholic Church response to survivors in the Melbourne Archdiocese, Archbishop Denis Hart announced that he had appointed a former Federal Court Judge to conduct a review of their process.
Changes are also occurring at the legislative level. One example: legislation proposed by the NSW Government that would require chief executives of organisations that deal with children to undergo the same screening as frontline staff. When announcing the proposal, the Minister referred to the Royal Commission’s report on Scouts Australia.
We have a long way to go before we can confidently say our institutions are safer, children are better protected, and people who have been abused have access to the treatment and support they may need to lead productive lives.
But the Royal Commission provides a unique opportunity for lawyers and scientists to come together and enable us to develop recommendations that make real and lasting change. In a contemporary society marked by fierce competition for scarce resources, this opportunity does not come about often.
I thank you for your ongoing dedication and commitment to assisting those in the community who suffer sexual abuse. The Royal Commissioners are committed to do what they can to minimise these problems in institutions in the future.
(R v Muldoon
, Unreported. New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, Hunt J, 13 December 1990)
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