Institutional statements apologising to survivors of child sexual abuse are often insufficient, according to a US expert into the trauma that such incidents cause.
Dr Bruce Perry, senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy in Texas, went as far as to call some responses “weak” and “feeble” given the extent of abuse that occurred – often over many decades.
Speaking to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Dr Perry said the long-term effects of abuse can be severe and many institutions don’t do enough to address historic injustices.
“You can’t erase institutional coercion and institutional abuse of process by issuing a statement,” ABC quoted him as saying. “That doesn’t undo it. That’s not enough.”
“You can’t have … a little PR thing that says ‘The YMCA is sorry that we sexually abused all you kids in our child care centres’.”
The long-term impact of abuse
According to Dr Perry, if authorities uncover decades of abuse within an institution, the response should involve a multigenerational problem-solving process.
He argued that people who suffered sexual abuse as children often develop physical and psychological problems as a result, including heart disease, schizophrenia and depression.
Figures from the US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health found that as many as 70 per cent of individuals who suffer chronic pain, depression, substance abuse or irritable bowel syndrome are sex abuse victims.
“Sexual abuse during development can impact certain systems in the body and the brain that are involved in stress response … and then when they get to be an adult it’ll influence the way they parent,” Dr Perry added.
The royal commission is about to finish public hearings after a four-year investigation into 4,000 institutions that has cost $500 million. The agency will provide a final report to the federal government outlining its findings in December.
Changing the script
Dr Cathy Kezelman, a sexual abuse survivor and president of a specialist counselling service for adults called the Blue Knot Foundation, praised those who spoke about their experiences of abuse to the commission.
“We have to change the script that the survivors have, that the world is not safe – waiting for the next assault to happen,” she explained.
However, compensation is available to child sex abuse survivors, even when incidents occurred many years ago.
Please contact our team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers for free over-the-phone advice or a face-to-face consultation.