Tardy redress would hurt victims more

The testimony given to the royal commission sitting in Ballarat provides further insight into the unconscionable human cost of child sexual abuse. The inquiry has revealed that 12 boys have died, allegedly by suicide from a single class of 33 at St Alipius school and 40 suicides related to child sexual assault have occurred within the Ballarat community. This community has been crushed to its core.

Silenced survivors have shown courage coming forward. … To not promptly address their needs would not only be soul-destroying but also life-threatening.

One after another, victims are continuing to come forward courageously breaking their silence. It has been asserted that there were schools in which no child was safe, with periods during which every teacher was an alleged sex offender.

With no safe place or person to tell, these children lived in constant fear of the next assault, powerless and helpless, as those charged with their care abused their power and betrayed them time and again. The possibility of “fight or flight”, a normal physiological response to danger was not available. Where was their community of nurture, care and compassion? And why did no one intervene to protect them?

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These survivors, now men, have related heartbreaking stories of lives ruined by disability, welfare dependency, mental illness, substance abuse and relationship breakdown. Many of those who have not paid the ultimate price are living a life sentence imposed by the predatory behaviour of paedophile priests and sealed by a system which protected its own at all costs.

The leadership of the Catholic Church in particular, is now under intense scrutiny. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is prising open a previously secretive and closed network. The silence is being shattered.

Throughout the royal commission we have seen a series of entrenched systems previously accountable only to their own internal intransigence publicly examined and we as a community have been shocked. That so many once revered systems could so conspire to betray their charges, not once but repeatedly, over decades and across leadership structures, is not acceptable.

The royal commission will release its interim recommendations around redress and civil litigation at the end of June. The recommendations will lay the foundations for a fair and just response for victims, including those now providing testimony in Ballarat. Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) calls on state and federal governments in Australia to respond proactively. They must immediately move to put in place frameworks and structures to implement the recommendations.

Silenced survivors have shown courage coming forward. They have trusted the commission and its processes as well as the governments that have supported it. To not promptly address their needs would not only be soul-destroying but also life-threatening.

When the recommendations are released, the immediate response should provide optimal possibilities for survivors to access much-needed support and redress. For many it will be too little; let’s not make it too late for all.

It is time for institutions to be brought to justice and held accountable. It is also time for true leadership, the sort of leadership seen within the commission, and it needs to come not just from all of the institutions paraded before the commission, but also from governments across Australia.

Dr Cathy Kezelman is the president of Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA)

Help and support for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse is available from the ASCA professional support line on 1300 657 380, 9am- 5pm Monday-Sunday.

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