The Church should not be waiting for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to make its final report before putting in place reforms, writes Francis Sullivan in ABC Online.
When the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its interim report, much of the attention focused on the first volume of the 700-page plus report. It is the second volume, however, that brings together what is a truly horrifying litany of abuse and suffering.
It is this volume that tells the individual stories of abuse and the treatment survivors subsequently received from the institutions in which they were abused.
The stories have been chosen as a representative group to help the community understand the accounts the Royal Commission is receiving and the experiences of survivors. Well over half of the stories involve abuse which occurred in Catholic Church institutions. The stories have been selected in the hope they will contribute to a better understanding of the profound consequences of child sexual abuse on the lives of survivors and their families
The volume also brings together some of the more prominent, and consistent, themes which have emerged from these and other stories. Many survivors reported a culture of fear in institutions, created by severe physical abuse which allowed for an environment in which sexual abuse was both possible and unlikely to be disclosed.
The stories also reveal the long-term effects of abuse - including physical and mental damage, failed relationships, limited education and career prospects. It was reported that perpetrators commonly prepared a child with the intention of sexually abusing them. They did this by building a relationship of trust with the child and their family or carer and by isolating the child.
Survivors reported they feared that they would not be believed or would be seen as weak for letting the abuse happen. They worried that disclosure would hurt and distress others.
If it is not clear to the leaders of the Church about the extent of the failure of the way in which we have dealt with survivors of abuse before the release of the interim report, there should be no question now.
What is also clear from this report, and from Commissioner Peter McClellan's speech to CLAN's annual meeting over the weekend, is that institutions such as the Church should not be waiting for the Commission to make its final report before putting in place reforms.