“Victims and their families have been fighting for recognition and justice for decades and great victories were achieved when the Victorian Inquiry and the Royal Commission were established. But ‘for what’ they say.”
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is after 2 years, at its halfway mark. The Commission is focused on systemic issues and institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse. Public hearings have been the main way the Commission does its work.
Hearings have demonstrated that the impact of the abuse has been profound and multi-dimensional and the damage compounds year after year and that suicides and premature deaths of victims are widespread. Evidence presented to the Commission shows that the impact and trauma resulting from the abuse is intergenerational, affecting victims, extended family, partners, wives, husbands, children, parents and grandchildren.
Worn out by having to fight institutions and government, and despite taking serious personal risks by giving evidence in public hearings to the Commission, Courtin argues that many victims and families have had their hopes for justice dashed by the failure of the Federal Government and the responsible institutions.
Courtin writes that many continue to be victimized by the system and by institutions and are shattered that justice has not prevailed.
Judy Courtin writes that the Federal Government not only showed contempt for child victims of sexual abuse, but its response further abuses victims of child sexual abuse. Further, she argues that the Abbott Government abandoned the 65,000 survivors of child sex crimes who now have to fight the institutions where the crimes occurred.
Evidence to the Commission shows that officials in institutions supposed to protect children actively conspired to abuse and rape them, however, more than 80% of alleged clergy sex offenders have evaded criminal accountability.
Many of the victims gave evidence that they tried to tell people in authority of the horrors they suffered, only to be severely punished, dismissed or forgotten.
Victims have provided evidence implicating influential Church, religious and community leaders in cover up of abuse. Crimes were actively denied, ignored or covered up.
The hierarchy and leadership of many churches, faith groups and institutions, as well as public authorities, knew about the abuse as far back as the 1950’s and 1960’s, but acted to protect their own interests, image and credibility at the expense of victims. The response by most institutions to victims has been hostile, dismissive, legalistic and victim blaming.
Judy Courtin argues that survivors want the whole truth to come out and that should go further than what the offenders themselves did, arguing that:
‘It was much more important to have accountability of the hierarchy on the concealing than accountability of the offender’
Courtin believes the lack of convictions for concealing abuse means church figures and leaders enjoy impunity. Her research shows that there has not been one conviction for the crime of concealing sex crimes and a serious lack of accountability and impunity by the institutions involved. She writes:
Cardinal George Pell (formerly Australia’s highest rank Catholic leader) has been accused of knowing of serious sexual abuse and rape and doing nothing; of trying to bribe victims to keep quiet; of ignoring or dismissing complaints; of colluding to protect perpetrators; and of transferring known offenders.
Many charitable organizations made it possible for powerful and influential people to engage in and conceal highly sophisticated and organized criminal activities. Victims and victim groups have made a serious critique of behaviour by churches, faith and charitable organizations who benefit from significant public funding and support and in some cases tax exempt status.
Some victims and victim groups have called for churches and charities involved in abuse to have their tax free status withdrawn.
In recent years there has been a plethora of State and now Federal Inquiries into child sexual abuse and child protection. The Royal Commission commissioned a study of the extent to which recommendations from those inquiries had been implemented which found that less than half (48%) of the recommendations had been implemented fully.