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'Denial no more': Abuse royal commission makes sweeping recommendations

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The abuse royal commission has recommended a national memorial for child sex abuse survivors and a national strategy to prevent future abuse, including appointing a federal minister for children’s issues.

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The $500 million, five-year royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse handed over its final 17-volume report today, having heard harrowing evidence from thousands of survivors in numerous church, sporting, government and community organisations.

“There is no simple explanation for why child sexual abuse has occurred in a multitude of institutions,” the final report says.

“However, we have identified a number of ways in which institutions may, inadvertently or otherwise, enable or create opportunities for abuse.”

This includes creating a ministerial portfolio with responsibility for children’s policy issues, and establishing a National Framework for Child Safety to provide a response to the implementation of the Child Safe Standards.

It wants the Federal Government to oversee the development and implementation of a national strategy to prevent child sexual abuse.

Federal and state governments have been asked to respond to the commission’s 189 recommendations within six months.

“Australian society must never go back to a state of denial about the nature, cause and impact of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts.”

It’s also recommended the royal commission website and reports from their work be archived within 12 months, so that the stories are not forgotten.

The royal commission, announced by then prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012, held its first public hearing in September 2013 and sat for 444 days in public.

The commission says tens of thousands of children were allegedly abused in more than 4000 institutions, but the true number would never be known.

It heard from more than 1300 witnesses in public hearings and was contacted by more than 15,000 survivors or their relatives.

Many survivors thanked the commission for finally allowing their stories to be heard. The commission has recommended that these stories and victims should not be forgotten.

“Memorials honour those who have suffered and provide opportunities to remember the past and think about the future. They provide a specific place for families and wider society to reflect on the trauma of survivors and mourn the victims lost.”

It has also recommended that institutions that have honours or dedications to known abusers remove them, and governments should strip them of any honours.

Senior Catholics have assured child abuse survivors the church has begun working toward meeting the recommendations in the final report.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher has promised the report will not “sit on a shelf”.

“I will study the findings and recommendations carefully, and then provide a detailed response as we discern, with the rest of the community, the best way forward,” he said in a statement today.

Among the recommendations made in the entire volume directed to the Catholic Church was that voluntary celibacy should be considered and much of the church management structure should be reviewed and made transparent.

Archbishop Fisher said he stood ready to address systemic issues behind the abuse.

He said he was appalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some members of the clergy and ashamed by the response of church leaders.

“I recognise and understand how this has damaged the credibility of the Church in the broader community and shocked many of our own faithful,” he said.

“If we are to be worthy of people’s trust we must demonstrate that the rights of children to be safe, heard and responded to appropriately are always respected.”

The report also recommended mandatory reporting laws should not exempt members of the ministry to protect crimes revealed in confessions.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe echoed Archbishop Fisher’s sentiments, committing to a compassionate and quick response to the abuse.

“There will be no easy dismissal of people’s stories, no sweeping of things under the carpet, no cover-ups,” he said in a statement.

“We will listen and we will act.”

Some key recommendations from the royal commission report

AUSTRALIA-WIDE laws requiring all adults to report known or suspected child abuse in religious and other institutions.

FAILURE to report should be a criminal offence.

THE LAWS will cover clergy who fail to report abuse admissions made during religious confession.

THE AUSTRALIAN Catholic Bishops Conference should ask the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.

A NEW national office for child safety, within the department of prime minister and cabinet, to evolve into a stand-alone statutory authority within 18 months.

A NEW federal minister responsible for mitigating risks of abuse, and working with states and territories to keep children safe.

A NEW national framework for child safety by 2020.

A NEW national website and helpline to report child abuse, education for children and parents, including in pre-schools, and help for adults who believe they’re at risk of becoming abusers.

– AAP

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