The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is after 2 years, at its halfway mark. The Commission is focused on systemic issues and institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse. Public hearings have been the main way the Commission does its work.
Hearings have demonstrated that the impact of the abuse has been profound and multi-dimensional and the damage compounds year after year and that suicides and premature deaths of victims are widespread. Evidence presented to the Commission shows that the impact and trauma resulting from the abuse is intergenerational, affecting victims, extended family, partners, wives, husbands, children, parents and grandchildren.
Lawyer and campaigner Judy Courtin argues that many survivors who have been fighting for justice for decades, particularly for adequate financial compensation and support, have had enough.
Worn out by having to fight institutions and government, and despite taking serious personal risks by giving evidence in public hearings to the Commission, Courtin argues that many victims and families have had their hopes for justice dashed by the failure of the Federal Government and the responsible institutions.
Courtin writes that many continue to be victimized by the system and by institutions and are shattered that justice has not prevailed.
There is also growing concern that recommendations of the Royal Commission are likely to be cast aside, particularly where they are costly, difficult to implement and/or where they are too much of a threat to powerful institutions, such as the churches, Governments, government agencies and Police.
Earlier this year the Abbott Government bluntly rejected the Royal Commission’s call for a National Redress scheme. The Abbott Government scoffed at suggestions that it be the ‘funder of last resort’ for people abused within and by institutions that no longer exist.
Judy Courtin writes that the Federal Government not only showed contempt for child victims of sexual abuse, but its response further abuses victims of child sexual abuse. Further, she argues that the Abbott Government abandoned the 65,000 survivors of child sex crimes who now have to fight the institutions where the crimes occurred.
Evidence to the Commission shows that officials in institutions supposed to protect children actively conspired to abuse and rape them, however, more than 80% of alleged clergy sex offenders have evaded criminal accountability.
Many of the victims gave evidence that they tried to tell people in authority of the horrors they suffered, only to be severely punished, dismissed or forgotten.
Victims have provided evidence implicating influential Church, religious and community leaders in cover up of abuse. Crimes were actively denied, ignored or covered up.
The hierarchy and leadership of many churches, faith groups and institutions, as well as public authorities, knew about the abuse as far back as the 1950’s and 1960’s, but acted to protect their own interests, image and credibility at the expense of victims. The response by most institutions to victims has been hostile, dismissive, legalistic and victim blaming.
Judy Courtin argues that survivors want the whole truth to come out and that should go further than what the offenders themselves did, arguing that :
'It was much more important to have accountability of the hierarchy on the concealing than accountability of the offender'
Courtin believes the lack of convictions for concealing abuse means church figures and leaders enjoy impunity. Her research shows that there has not been one conviction for the crime of concealing sex crimes and a serious lack of accountability and impunity by the institutions involved. She writes:
Many charitable organizations made it possible for powerful and influential people to engage in and conceal highly sophisticated and organized criminal activities. Victims and victim groups have made a serious critique of behaviour by churches, faith and charitable organizations who benefit from significant public funding and support and in some cases tax exempt status.
Some victims and victim groups have called for churches and charities involved in abuse to have their tax free status withdrawn.
The Royal Commission has recently published a Research Paper suggesting that organizations be held criminally responsible when their negligence results in harms to children.