Families Australia: submission to the Australian Government on the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

(This is an extract of the full submission. Please contact Families Australia to request a copy of the full version)

Summary

Families Australia considers that the Royal Commission should:

  • Define ‘child abuse’ as broadly as possible. The prime focus should be on child sexual abuse, but should also take into account other forms of abuse perpetrated, and currently being perpetrated, against children, including psychological, emotional and physical abuse.
  • Consider the causal and consequential influence of alcohol and other drug related harm which directly and indirectly contribute to damage to children’s lives and places perverse limitations on children’s opportunities to flourish.
  • Thoroughly examine historical abuse as well as current child abuse. The Royal Commission should focus on, and recommend ways to remedy, past injustices. It should also make recommendations about the state and future of child protection in Australia, both at the national and State/Territory levels.
  • Examine the case for, and recommend mechanisms relating to, redress for injustices done to children abused in institutions. As has been the case with recent inquiries in other countries, such as in Ireland and Sweden, issues of acknowledgement, compensation and other forms of redress should form an important part of the Royal Commission’s work.
  • Define ‘institutions’ as broadly as possible. We mean that apart from institutions that had a physical presence (say, orphanages), other types of ‘care’ for children and systems or ways of thinking about the treatment of children need to be examined. We have in mind, for example, the situation for children in foster and kinship care, in juvenile justice settings and in mental institutions. Medical or chemical experimentation on children needs to be examined.
  • Consider issuing progress reports at regular intervals, or releasing work on particular issues on an interim basis. It will be important for the Royal Commission to act as expeditiously, but as thoroughly, as possible. A final report produced years after the commencement of the process would undoubtedly create concern about a lack of movement in addressing the issues.
  • Examine the barriers to truth that result from the handling of child abuse cases due to factors such as legal privilege and the confidentiality of the church confessional. Similarly, the Royal Commission ought to investigate the extent of collusion between authorities who had, and have, a duty of care toward children. Such blockages prevent people from being heard and their issues acted upon. In the past, we had physical institutions and systems and now we have greater use of technology that can hide perpetrators and protect them. Hence, the Royal Commission’s recommendations need to include structures that will prevent cover-ups continuing.
  • Ensure that those giving evidence to the Royal Commission are supported in doing so to reduce the risk of re-traumatisation. Counselling and other supports will be needed to protect and care for those already affected by past injustices (as well as for Royal Commission staff). Provision needs to be made for evidence to be provided in camera if required. Indeed, while upholding the status of the Royal Commission, efforts need to be made to ensure that proceedings are not overly-legalistic and acknowledge and understand cultural and social contexts for presentation of evidence, for example, in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, visiting Aboriginal communities and talking to people on-site, and procedures that enable evidence from children and young people if we are saying current abuse.
  • Appoint a number of Assistant/Deputy Commissioners, with similar powers to the Commissioner, to hear concurrent evidence and submissions across the country which may expedite proceedings while ensuring that all who wish to be heard are able to do so.

The media need to be well briefed and informed about Royal Commission proceedings to avoid misreporting and sensationalisation. The Royal Commission should give priority to its public education role so that everyone becomes more aware of the issues and victims of abuse are not prevented from coming forward and receiving the treatment they need.

 

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Terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (November 2012)