Sexual Abuse in Australian Institutions

Published 29 May 2017

It may surprise some to know that in Australia, sexual abuse permeates many organizations, not just the Catholic Church. Although the focus of this article concerns misdeeds committed at these institutions, it is worth noting that such behavior also involves people in positions of trust such as doctors, teachers, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Catholic Church

An article, “Royal commission into child sexual abuse: 1,880 alleged perpetrators identified in Catholic Church” by Philippa McDonald and Riley Stuart, reveals the following additional bombshells:

  • More than 20 percent of the members of some Catholic orders, including Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers, were allegedly involved in child sexual abuse.
  • Nearly 2,000 Catholic Church figures, including priests, religious brothers and sisters, and employees, were categorized as alleged perpetrators.
  • According to Gail Furness SC, a survey disclosed that there were 4,444 allegations of incidents of abuse between January 1980 and February 2015.
  • Also, 60 percent of all abuse survivors attending private royal commission sessions described sexual abuse at faith-based institutions, two-thirds of those at Catholic institutions.

The Australian government established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in 2013 in an attempt to get a handle on the problem. The commission officials travel around the country to conduct private interviews with sexual abuse victims of the Catholic Church to attempt to get them justice.

Public Schools

Sexual abuse in public schools has a long history. As far back as the 1880’s, sexual relations between male teachers and female students were officially designated as criminal behaviour (of course, we now know male students are victims too). In 1947, a well-known psychiatrist named Dr. John McGeorge wrote to the NSW Department of Justice that “people who abused children were often in a position of public trust [such as} a schoolteacher”. The Royal Commission includes public schools among the institutions it investigates.

Government Organizations

Sadly, government-run institutions such as children’s homes are hardly immune to the travesty of sexual abuse. Although these homes were established in 1852, it was not until the 1990’s that the sexual ordeal suffered by some children in these homes came into the spotlight. From 1964 to 1975, Donald Henderson, who was in charge of the Retta Dixon home run by the Australian Indigenous Ministries (AIM), allegedly abused children on an enormous scale. Yet it was not until 2014 that the Royal Commission investigated these alleged abuses. It turned out that a group of plaintiffs took AIM members and employees, the AIM institution itself, and even the Commonwealth to court. Fortunately, the Royal Commission is altering how the courts hear victims’ claims of sexual abuse which occurred a long time ago.

Girls and Boys Homes

The history of institutional sexual abuse continues. The NSW Parramatta Girls Industrial School was established in 1887 to train girls from the welfare system or reform those who had committed offenses. The first reports of abuse came out in 1941 and then every year after that until 1946, causing two investigations by the Child Welfare Advisory Committee. Several women contacted the Royal Commission and 16 gave evidence at the hearing. Lawyers of the school’s victims began negotiating a settlement with the NSW government in 2015.

Sexual abuse in boys’ homes also has a long history. However, if allegations came forth, the authorities would often shut down the institution rather than risk damage to their reputations. The Salvation Army is one of those institutions which had come under investigation.

Scouting Organisations

Steven Larkins, a well-known sexual predator who was an adult leader in Scouts Australia in the 1990s, went to prison for his offences which also included possession of child pornography. Compensation was awarded to the victims.

Gerard Malouf and Partners have been successful in claims for compensation for victims of child abuse, sexual assault, and physical and mental abuse against a large number of organisations and individuals. They pride themselves on their “Triple C” attitude of “Compassion, Commitment, and Competence”.