Trigger warning: sexual abuse, sexual assault, child abuse.
The announcement of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by the Gillard government; its extension by the Abbott government, supported by the Turnbull government; and the national apology delivered by Scott Morrison and reiterated by Bill Shorten, demonstrate that issues related to institutional child sexual abuse survivors are not only bipartisan, but at the core of our national identity.The pervasiveness of child sexual abuse within some 4000 institutions shocked us to the core. Some victims were robbed of even the most basic human rights not once but repeatedly when those rights were further transgressed, as survivors' disclosures were dismissed, their needs minimised, and support and justice denied.
The commission also alerted us to broader issues around childhood trauma. We learnt not only that many institutional sexual abuse survivors were additionally physically violated, and emotionally neglected, but also that most childhood abuse and other complex traumas — interpersonal, repeated and extreme — occur in the home, family and neighbourhood.
Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, Australia must respond promptly and fairly to the needs of all survivors, not only of institutional child sexual abuse, but of all forms of childhood trauma. Every time we create a new class of survivor and more 'have-nots' we replicate the inequities of abusive systems.
The Joint Select Committee Report around the implementation of redress released last week is telling. It highlights the gaps between the commission's recommendations for a fair and equitable National Redress Scheme, its driving focus on survivors, and the current scheme. Most notable is the abrogation of the responsibility of many so-called 'responsible' institutions to sign up to the scheme. This has left many survivors in the 'have-not' group, yet again.
None of this is to deny the complexity of the scheme, or the inherent tensions between the machinations of government and a trauma-informed survivor-focused scheme.
Not the least of these was the more than two-year delay from the commission's report to government action, the reduction in cap for the maximum payment from $200,000 to $150,000, and the implementation of an assessment matrix, uninformed by an understanding of grooming, child sexual abuse dynamics and impacts. Again, we see a class of 'have-nots', in which many people who experienced unimaginable impacts are not eligible for maximum or near-maximum payments.
"To exclude prisoners from applying until their release is a further violation of their human rights, already decimated when they were children."
Similarly, the treatment of survivors of child sexual abuse who have served a custodial sentence of five years or more is punitive and discriminatory. It is well known that many survivors become involved with the criminal justice system, and for those serving custodial sentences, the current potential for exclusion, subject to advice to the scheme operator from the relevant state attorneys-general, is doubly punitive. To exclude prisoners from applying until their release is a further violation of their human rights, already decimated when they were children.
Similarly, the current provision for counselling and psychological care, which differs between states, is not focused on the quality of the counselling, and is not accessible life-long, as recommended by the commission. The recent Senate report delineates still other inequities — more 'have-nots' — which need to be addressed, regardless of who is in government after the election.
The provision of support for survivors in an ongoing way remains inadequate for many who struggle to feel safe, ever. Lack of consistent informed support, particularly for isolated survivors, people from remote communities, or those living with a disability, add to survivors' frustration and distress. Delays in processing of applications, confusion about exclusion criteria and which institutions are in the scheme, are further compounding, as are challenges in transparency, expectations and clear communication about the scheme.
The establishment of the National Office of Child Safety, implementation of national child safety standards and national principles are to be welcomed, as consistency of practice across the state and territory divides is critical. So too is the announcement of funding for a national centre focused on child sexual abuse.
However, the population of survivors of childhood trauma extends well beyond this group. By conservative estimates, childhood trauma affects one in four adult Australians, all of whom deserve and need informed support. For this reason, it is paramount that the brief and funding of the national centre be extended to include childhood trauma more broadly. Otherwise, we will have even more 'have-nots'.
For confidential counselling and support call the blue knot helpline on 1300 657 380 or visit www.blueknot.org.au
Reference: The original article was published here