Keeping children safe

By Penny Mulvey

Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, provided significant insights into the progress of the hearings when he addressed a men’s health symposium in Brisbane last month.

He told the symposium one of the questions considered by the Royal Commission is: Why does a person become an abuser?

Justice McClellan said that while he wondered whether the question could ever be satisfactorily answered, the Commission is looking at the profile of individuals who have authority in particular institutions, and is developing theories around the structure of those institutions.

“The issue is compounded by the fact that we know that the majority of abuse happens in a familial or other domestic context. That may be merely a product of numbers (most children live with a family) but it suggests that matters other than the fact of the institution are important,” the Commission chair told the conference.

The Commission was also keen to dispel a commonly repeated view that most institutional child sex abuse is historic. “Because it takes, on average, more than 20 years for people to report abuse, in some cases significantly longer,” Justice McLellan said, “it is wrong to assume that abuse of children in an institutional context is a problem of the past.

“The task of the Royal Commission is to identify appropriate recommendations to respond to a problem which, although of necessity described by past events, must respond to future risks.”

Justice McLellan also spent some time explaining aspects of the Letters Patent for the Royal Commission which was issued on 11 January 2013. The Letters Patent requires the Commissioners to make recommendations about policy, legislative, administrative or structural reforms.

Justice McLellan says based on the information they have collected so far, the Commissioners have concluded that at least another 30 institutions must be examined by the Royal Commission to ensure it fulfils the requirements of the Letters Patent. He also told the symposium that “faith-based institutions, whether residential facilities, schools or diocesan constitute a significant proportion of the institutions reported to us by survivors”.

The Synod of VicTas has prepared an information booklet on the Royal Commission. The booklet, which you will find inside this edition of Crosslight, covers topics such as ‘what does the Royal Commission mean for your congregation’; ‘when you receive a disclosure’; and ‘what we are doing to prevent child sexual abuse now’.

The Uniting Church believes that redress must be available to survivors of past abuse, including in a culturally sensitive manner for survivors from Indigenous, immigrant or culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The Uniting Church considers that it would be appropriate to offer redress, including financial support, through a scheme that is:
National – access to redress should not depend on where in Australia a person lived, and the process for seeking redress should be the same everywhere.

Independent – the organisations that run institutions where abuse occurred – whether these are governments, churches or other charities – should not investigate themselves and risk accusations of conflict of interest.

Universal – all institutions where abuse occurred, and all parties responsible, should fall within the scope of operation of the scheme.
Engaged with survivors – survivors have the right to be heard, including in the design of the scheme.

For further information about the Royal Commission’s hearings schedule, please go to its website 

To read the full transcript of Justice McLellan’s speech, go to  You can also find information on the VicTas website Royal Commission page.

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