As we usher in 2017, it is important that we reflect on the lessons we have learnt and resolve to keep doing better to stop child abuse and continue to respond to survivors of abuse positively and compassionately.
We need to do better in our religious institutions.
The inquests into the Catholic and Anglican churches sex abuse claims exposed major failings in how churches in Australia have dealt with children being sexually violated and the lasting and devastating impact this has on victims.
We heard evidence from brave survivors within the various churches, of reports being made of abuse at the time yet no action being taken. What becomes perfectly apparent in these cases is that the church’s priority was to protect the church’s public image rather than to protect the children. This is a stark contrast to the duty of care and service they commit themselves to.
And from one institution to another, last year, I was sad to see extreme failings in our school systems too.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has looked at a number of schools, including Brisbane Grammar School, St Paul’s School, Knox Grammar, among others. We have heard harrowing stories of how vulnerable young students were subjected to horrendous abuse in an environment that should have protected them.
Having spoken to many survivors of abuse in prestigious schools, one of the devastating impacts is on the student’s relationship with their parents. The parents often paid exorbitant fees to give their son or daughter what they thought was the best education they could have. Instead, they were sending their precious child off to be horrendously abused, like a lamb to the slaughter.
Many parents, express guilt. Many survivors express anger over the fact that the one decision that the parents’ made in relation to the choice of school for their child utterly destroyed his or her life.
Unfortunately, abuse is still occurring in both institutions and the decisions that parents make in relation to school and church selection can have devastating consequences that last for decades.
We need to do better wherever there are vulnerable children
The royal commission has exposed time and time again young vulnerable children being subjected to soul-destroying abuse and an institution that either didn’t care, didn’t see the harm or chose to ignore it as it was just too hard to deal with.
People’s lives have been destroyed. The pain and devastation in the voices of these survivors, or of their families, as they tell their stories hits you right in the heart.
It makes it even more incomprehensible that when representatives of these institutions, the same ones that these kids were entrusted in the care of, turned their backs and did not try to help, dismissing the claims as fanciful and an exaggeration.
The royal commission is making progress with how we address child sexual abuse when it happens and also how we respond to survivors of abuse when victims do come forward to report the abuse.
We look forward to this progress continuing this year. It must.
This year, we must all also be better at identifying the signs of a child who may be in the current grips of abuse. And we must be better at doing everything in our power to stop it.
Lisa Flynn is a partner in Shine Lawyers' abuse law practice.