The Hon Justice Peter McLellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse gave a wide ranging speech for Blue Knot Day for Adults Surviving Child Abuse.  Justice McLellan spoke about what the Commissioners have learnt. He said that the picture emerging was that although sexual abuse of children is not confined in time-it is  happening today- there was a time in Australian history when the conjunction of prevailing social attitudes to children and an unquestioning respect for authority of institutions by adults coalesced to create a high risk environment in which thousands of children were abused.  Justice McLellan also said that although the primary responsibility for the sexual abuse of an individual lies with the abuser and the institution of which they were part, the conclusion that the problems faced by many people  who were abused are the responsibility of society cannot be avoided.

It is clear from the speech that the Commissioners have formed the view that any response must involve three fundamental elements:

First, for those who wish it, there should be an opportunity to engage with the institution where they were abused and receive a meaningful apology and be otherwise supported in a spiritually and culturally appropriate manner.

Secondly, there is a clear need for any survivor to have access to counselling or psychiatric care as they may need it during their lifetime.  On this point, Justice McLellan acknowledged that currently there is limited availability of trained professionals with appropriate experience and limited funding for victims to avail themselves of appropriate treatment throughout their lives.  Justice McLellann said, “By some means, funding must be found which ensures that professionals are available to keep people alive and otherwise provide them with the capacity to function effectively.”

Thirdly there is a need of survivors to receive a lump sum payment which marks the abuse and recognises the failure of the institution to keep the person safe as a child.

Justice McLellan then went on to discuss some of the difficulties involved in providing redress including that some institutions no longer exist or have limited or no funds.  Justice McLellan said that the “inevitable consequence is that the community must look both to governments and the institutions to come together to provide a response which provides appropriate redress for all who have suffered sexual abuse as children in an institutional context.”

Survivors and their advocates will learn more of the Commissions recommendations in January of  next year when it anticipates publishing a paper on these issues.

Justice McLellan’s full speech can be found on the Royal Commission website

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