Child abuse in Australia will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future, according to a leading legal expert.
Justice Peter McClellan, who chairs the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, said the country has “a long way to go” before organisations can be deemed safe environments against offenders.
He was talking to attendees at an Australia and New Zealand Association of Psychotherapy conference in Sydney on September 30.
“We must accept that [child abuse] has been occurring in every generation. We know that the risk to children remains today.”
“As our institutional structures evolve, and our means of social interaction change, the circumstances of risk may vary, [but] it is a mistake to assume that abuse in institutions will not occur,” he said.
Justice McClelland said child abuse prevention could be facilitated with stronger government regulations, institutional governance improvements and better community awareness of the risks.
Justice McClelland’s comments came after the royal commission published a list of 85 recommendations for reforming the criminal justice system to ensure survivors of abuse receive a fairer response from institutions.
Key suggestions included changing sentencing standards, criminalising failures to report abuse and strengthening grooming laws.
“Victims often assess the potential risks and benefits of disclosure before speaking about their experiences,” Justice McClelland stated.
“They may not expect to be believed, or that disclosure will have negative consequences for them, their families and communities.”
However, he welcomed news that the Commonwealth government accepted a royal commission recommendation that survivors should receive compensation, albeit at a maximum payment of $150,000.
The commission investigated numerous child abuse accusations against multiple denominations of the church, including more than 1,100 allegations against Anglican clergy.
Despite apologies regarding its response to child abuse, the Anglican church hit the headlines last week (September 30) after failing to meet a compensation deadline. The church was ordered to pay a survivor $1.5 million after historic offences were revealed at Brisbane’s St Paul’s school in the 1980s.
Guardian Australia reported that the organisation was told to make the payment by September 13, but it had still not made the transfer over two weeks later.
Commenting on the case, the survivor said: “It’s extremely hard. It’s just this continual thing, like this cloud, hanging there, waiting.”
A spokesman for the Anglican diocese claimed the matter had been blown out of proportion and the church had made a payment within hours of finding out about the transfer error. But the plaintiff’s lawyers said the church acted with “arrogance” and “disdain” towards their client.
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