posted on December 21, 2018 13:38
The delay in institutions joining the national redress scheme is a further betrayal and compounds the trauma endured
Adult survivors of child sexual abuse are receiving rough justice from offending institutions such as churches. At the same time that many churches are celebrating the innocence of childhood this Christmas, they are denying justice to survivors who were innocent children when their lives were damaged and, in some cases destroyed, by institutional sexual abuse.
The national redress scheme for institutional sexual abuse survivors started on 1 July. Some 2,000 people have made applications, but only 20 survivors (1% of the 2,000) have received any form of redress. Many of the applications received relate to institutions that have yet to come on board with the scheme. Most Catholic church dioceses and archdioceses have joined the scheme, but at least 150 Catholic orders have yet to come on board. The Uniting church has yet to join the scheme and the Anglican church has only partly done so. Neither the Catholic or Uniting churches have committed to a timeframe for fully joining the scheme. The majority of Anglican church entities should join the scheme by the middle of 2019.
The survivors who are applying for redress were subjected to institutional betrayal which included facilitating child sexual assaults; punishing those who made complaints about sexual abuse; using obfuscation, denial and hard line legal tactics to hinder efforts to obtain justice as well as moving perpetrators from one institution to another where they were free to re-offend. These betrayals compounded the damage caused by the original sexual assaults. For many, the capacity to form trusting relationships was permanently damaged. This damage runs so deep that some survivors are unable to form intimate relationships or show affection. Frequently survivors use drugs and alcohol to numb their pain and if this fails, commit suicide. Parents, children and loved ones who have to cope with the heartbreak of survivors’ blighted lives are secondary victims as the damage caused by institutional betrayal spans across several generations.
Survivors and their families were betrayed when the sexual assaults first occurred and they are currently being betrayed by the offending institutions that have failed to join the scheme. We should not tolerate institutions making public statements of apology and regret while privately making it difficult for survivors seeking to obtain compensation.
Public shaming alone has done little to overcome institutional inaction. The royal commission revealed shameful evidence of institutional betrayal including at best wilful ignorance and at worst active enabling of child sexual assaults. There have now been two royal commissions and several parliamentary inquiries and yet a large number of institutions remain intransigent about actively participating in the scheme. The scheme has been criticised for failing to implement several key recommendations made by the royal commission. The scheme’s assessment framework unjustly offers much less compensation for abuse that does not involve penetration. This ignores the royal commission’s finding that “contact or exposure abuse” can lead to the same life-long egregious impacts as those caused by “penetrative” abuse.
The commonwealth government joint select committee that is currently examining the implementation of the scheme has yet to release its findings. The ongoing betrayal of survivors by offending institutions who have failed to come on board with the scheme needs to be widely publicised.
Child sexual assault is a fundamental abuse of power. Individual perpetrators and offending institutions used their power over children to commit or facilitate sexual assaults and to silence and humiliate their victims. Shame and humiliation are at the core of the damage caused by child sexual assault. Healing can only occur when survivors are empowered and treated with respect and dignity. The unacceptable delay in institutions coming on board with the national redress scheme is a further betrayal of survivors and their loved ones and compounds the trauma they have endured. Many survivors are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Some have medical conditions that make their applications to the scheme a priority. They deserve to receive redress before they die. Currently many survivors’ applications are languishing because of institutional inertia. The pace at which progress is being made with certain institutions is glacial.
There is a human tendency to attempt to move on from traumatic events as quickly as possible. Historical child sexual assault confronts us with an evil that is distressing and difficult. But child sexual assault is not going to disappear. It is causing considerable damage to children today and will continue to damage the children of the future. The human cost of child sexual assault will only be reduced if the current national redress scheme is reformed so that the scheme becomes what the royal commission intended it to be. Offending institutions and other entities must make actively participating in the scheme an urgent priority. Pressure from the public is needed to achieve these goals.
Robert Llewellyn-Jones is a psychiatrist who assists survivors of child sexual assault and is a survivor of sexual assaults at Geelong Grammar School
• Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14;Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
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