The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has marked the first anniversary of its establishment with the release of more detailed information about its work in the past 12 months.
The Royal Commission was established on 11 January 2013 and the recruitment of staff and the work needed to create suitable premises commenced on that date. The Royal Commission was able to begin its work in earnest in April; private sessions began in May and the first public hearing was in September. Private sessions have been a major element of the Royal Commission’s work and to date, more than 1,000 victims of child sexual abuse have told a Commissioner what happened to them.
Royal Commission CEO, Ms Janette Dines, said a breakdown of the statistics involving private sessions to date showed that:
- Nearly two thirds were male; and
- Seven out of ten victims were aged 50 or above, with 10% over the age of 70.
“The private sessions have been important to the Royal Commissioners. For many victims, telling their story is difficult, even traumatic, but what they have told the Commissioners has helped provide a level of knowledge that would otherwise have been very difficult to obtain. The Commissioners are extremely grateful to those victims who have told their stories. For many, it was the first time they had ever told anybody what had happened to them. They showed immense strength and courage.”
Ms Dines said that while the breakdown of data clearly showed that victims’ experiences occurred in different locations and in different institutions, there were many similarities in both the nature of the abuse and the impact the abuse had on people’s lives.
“For example, Commissioners have heard in private sessions that sexual abuse is often accompanied by serious physical abuse, particularly when that abuse occurred decades ago.
“Other similarities include a generally stated dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system and the anguish felt by many victims that, despite attempts to disclose the abuse at the time it occurred, they were not believed.”
Ms Dines said the Commissioners had also learnt of the devastating impact of child sexual abuse on adult lives which can include mental health problems or substance abuse and difficulties in maintaining relationships. Many victims have felt shame and had believed that what happened had been their fault. These feelings of guilt and shame had persisted into adulthood.
“The Royal Commission has achieved much in its first 12 months,” said Ms Dines, “but it is clear that it continues to face a huge task.
“In the first half of 2014, there will be public hearings in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT. In all, the Royal Commission anticipates holding 21 weeks of public hearings (some will be concurrent). The Royal Commission will aim to offer 800 private sessions to those victims who fall within its Terms of Reference, including 4 weeks of private sessions in regional locations.
“The Royal Commission will also increase its engagement with disadvantaged groups including prisoners, people with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; it will release more issues papers and invite submissions from interested parties; and there will be 4 Roundtable Discussions and more community forums.
“The Royal Commission is committed to breaking down the many barriers disadvantaged groups face in coming forward and will continue to build trust with communities to facilitate the sharing of stories,” Ms Dines added.
The Royal Commission will deliver its first interim report by 30 June 2014.
Royal Commission – At a Glance
Since April 2013 the Royal Commission has;
- received more than 8,500 phone calls, 3,300 letters and emails and 172,000 visits to the website
- heard the stories of more than 1,000 victims of child sexual abuse
- held more than 300 meetings with advocacy groups, legal services and community organisations in every state and territory in Australia
- served more than 300 notices to produce documents on a range of government and non-government institutions
- heard from more than 80 witnesses in four public hearings
- referred 96 matters to authorities including Police
- received 252 submissions relating to four Issues Papers; two additional Issues Papers are currently open for comment