Compensation ‘crucial to recognising wrongs’ of child sex abuse

Date: May 30, 2017

The chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has claimed paying compensation to victims is an important part of recognising historic wrongs perpetrated by religious officials.

Justice Peter McClellan also told the National Council of Churches via a recorded video that all major Australian churches must better protect children or risk illegitimacy.

According to Justice McClellan, the Royal Commission has referred 2,025 matters to authorities, typically the police, in an attempt to punish offenders. So far, just 127 prosecutions have commenced, although the sheer volume of cases means it will be some time before major progress is made.

National redress scheme

Justice McClellan referred to a redress report that was published in 2015, which recommended a single national system to the Australian government for supporting survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The three-pronged system involved "modest monetary payments" as an important part of recognising the wrongs that victims had suffered. The other two elements of redress were:

  • Access to counselling and psychological care where necessary; and
  • A direct response from the institution in question, including an apology and the opportunity to meet senior officials to explain what measures have been taken or will be taken to prevent further sexual abuse.

"The commissioners understand that many churches and religious groups have indicated that they are positively disposed to the Commonwealth's scheme. This is very pleasing to hear," McClellan said.

"The need for an effective response for survivors who have been abused in a religious context is undoubted. The need to provide for their ongoing psychological and psychiatric care is urgent."

A thorough investigation

Figures from the Royal Commission show that the agency handled 38,698 phone calls – as of May 1 – in relation to child sexual abuse throughout its three-year investigation. It also received over 22,000 emails and held 6,706 private sessions.

The commission investigated numerous institutions, although religious organisations comprised the bulk of the correspondence. Justice McClellan noted that 59 per cent of all reported instances of abuse were church related, of which 37 per cent of victims alleged crimes against the Catholic Church.

"We know that it is often very difficult for victims to disclose or report what is happening to them at the time," he explained.

"We also know that children are particularly vulnerable. They are likely to have [fewer] opportunities to report to police and are less able to take effective steps to protect themselves."

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