Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its Final Report[1] last Friday marking the end to the 5 year inquiry first instigated by ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard in November 2012.

The scope of the Commission’s inquiry was far reaching and focused on child sexual abuse in an institutional setting and related matters such as unlawful or improper treatment of children.[2] For the purposes of the report, an ‘institution’ was any organisation that now, or in the past, had contact with children[3] and included government departments, religious organisation, charities, schools, child care centers, juvenile justice settings, sporting clubs and recreation, arts, culture, community and hobby groups. The Commission was directed to focus on systemic issues while having regard to personal experiences.

Responses to the enquiry were voluminous with the Commission handing over 42,000 calls, receiving close to 30,000 letters and emails, and referring 2,575 matters to authorities including the police.[4] More than 8,000 people aged between 7 and 93[5] availed themselves of the ability to tell their personal histories of child sexual abuse to the Commission in a “private session” which was newly introduced into the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) by amendment in 2013 to specifically enable survivors to share their stories and provide a public record of their experience in a protective and supportive environment.[6] The Commission also heard from 1,300 witnesses across 57 public hearings to examine particular institutional responses to sexual abuse which were case based and carefully chosen to ensure an institutional spread of inquiry.[7]

The Final Report covers 17 volumes and contains a total of 189 recommendations, bringing the total count to 409. The report released builds on the Commission’s previous reports including Working with Children Checks (August 2015), Redress and Civil Litigation (September 2015) and Criminal Justice (August 2017).

The Commission heard repeated evidence that child sexual abuse in institutions is not a problem the past.[8] Although more than one third of the respondent survivors reported historical child sexual abuse crimes, [9] the Commission found that contemporary institutional cultures and practices allow for abuse to occur and inhibit detection.[10] Not surprisingly, the Commission made 58 recommendations in respect of religious organisations which was by far the highest count of any focus institution. This was followed by contemporary out-of-home care and detention environments.  Recognising that “across many decades, many of society’s institutions failed our children”,[11] much of the Commission’s recommendations focus on setting up a national strategy to prevent future abuse, and to equip institutions with appropriate and responsive complaints handling programs.

Key recommendations from the Commission’s Final Report include:[12]

  1. Introduction of National Child Safe Standards (recommendation 6.5) to be administered by a newly proposed National Office for Child Safety (recommendation 6.16). The standards are intended to act as benchmarks against which institutions can assess their capacity for child safety and are consistent with Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  2. Introduce national registers for carers (recommendation 8.17) and religious organisations (recommendation 16.58) that are backed by legislative and administrative information exchange arrangements. The Commission also recommended that existing registers for teachers and students be reformed so as to have national consistency and sharing capabilities (recommendation 8.9).
  3. Mandatory reporting obligations currently in place for police, nurses and doctors be extended to other sectors that have contact with children including people in religious ministry, child care workers, youth workers, out-of-home care workers, and registered psychologists and school counsellor (recommendation 7.3). Foster and kinship/relative carers are expressly excluded from the scope of this recommendation. The Commission stressed that mandatory reporting legislation should protect those who make reports in good faith about child sexual abuse in institutional contexts from civil and criminal liability, as well as other forms of detrimental action as a result of making a report (recommendation 7.5).
  4. Complaints or admissions of child sexual abuse made during a religious confession be mandatorily reported to police (recommendation 7.4).
  5. New criminal offences be introduced for failure to report child sexual abuse to police (recommendation 33) as well as failure to protect a child within a relevant institution from a substantial risk of sexual abuse by an adult associated with that institution (recommendation 36). Relevant institutions are those that operate facilities or provide services to children in circumstances where the child is in the care, supervision or control of the institution.[13] A reportable offence[14] is one where a person knows, suspects or should have suspected (on the basis of a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have suspected and it was criminally negligent for the person not to suspect) that an adult associated with that institution was or had sexually abused a child.
  6. Any person in religious ministry who is convicted of an offence relating to child sexual abuse be dismissed, deposed, or otherwise effectively have their religious status removed (recommendation 16.56)
  7. Grooming offences be extended to grooming of persons other than the child (recommendation 26) including family members, carers, or organisations with which a perpetrator is associated and has access to children.

 

The focus now must be for our government and the various institutions to review and, where possible, implement the recommendations as a matter of priority. As legal practitioners with extensive experience in advising on claims made by survivors of child sexual abuse Meridian Lawyers is committed to assisting our clients respond to claims in a manner consistent with the Commission’s recommendations. Please contact Andrew Saxton or Julie Somerville, Principals in our Sydney Office, for any queries. Andrew and Julie thank Lauren Biviano, solicitor, for her assistance in preparing this article.

 

[1] Commonwealth, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final Report (2017) (‘Final Report 2017’) https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/final-report

[2] Final Report (2017) vol 1, 17 [2.1].

[3] Ibid 17 [2.1.1]

[4] Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, website homepage <https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/>

[5] Above n 2, 27.

[6] Ibid 26.

[7] Ibid 34.

[8] Final Report (2017) vol 6, 139.

[9] Final Report (2017) vol 11, 11.

[10] above n 7.

[11] Commonwealth, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Preface and executive summary, 3.

[12] Final Report (2017): Recommendations

[13] Final Report (2017): Recommendations, 102 [36(c)]

[14] Final Report (2017): Recommendations, 100 [33(b)]

 

Disclaimer: This information is current as of December 2017. These articles do not constitute legal advice and do not give rise to any solicitor/client relationship between Meridian Lawyers and the reader. Professional legal advice should be sought before acting or relying upon the content of these articles.


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