Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"The Future Of Our Kids Depends On It!"

EDITORIAL: For the sake of our children, truth must emerge from Royal Comission into institutional child sex abuse    

In that time the Commission has heard hundreds of stories, both horrifying and heartbreaking.

More than a thousand survivors are yet to give their own evidence.

As Commissioner Peter McClellan recently said, the personal accounts confirm the devastating effects of abuse, and prove any exploitation has "catastrophic consequences" for survivors who are then likely to lead "a life which is seriously compromised from what it might otherwise have been".

Tragically, abuse robs not just the child but also the woman or man who grows from that point.

Allegations of child abuse in institutional settings have long plagued organisations, some with proud histories.

Yet, until this Commission's first public hearings in April this year, no systematic review of these accusations had been undertaken in Australia.

For too long any number of churches (synagogues), community organisations and state care facilities have been under a cloud as to what did or did not happen to the children under their watch, and what those institutions did about it.

Some ugly truths will inevitably be peeled back, but the Commission's brief is not just to hear survivors' stories, or just to bring their perpetrators to justice.

These are, of course, critical developments that will assist victims in moving on with their lives.

Arguably the Commission's most vital role is to understand how institutions have dealt with child abuse allegations in the past so that a more transparent and dependable framework to prevent and report abuse in the future can be set up for all community bodies involving children.

But to get to that point, some brutally frank questions must be asked.

What, for example, did these institutions know about the child abuse perpetrated? How quickly was such abuse reported? Were incidents covered up and offenders protected in the name of public relations?

These questions will undoubtedly reveal even more heart-wrenching stories, yet they must be told.

Some of those terrible stories came out last week when the Commission resumed its public hearings in Sydney.

It was then that we heard how such bodies as Scouts Australia and the Department of Community Services dealt with allegations that the former head of Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services, Steven Larkins, had abused children in his care.

The fact that such esteemed institutions as Scouts Australia, as well as the various churches, should be asked such questions will, again, prove painful for countless Australians who boast a long and happy association with these bodies.

It will be humbling to many and painful for most, but it's an agony that must be endured if the truth is to emerge and if children are to be protected in the future.

More pain will inevitably be felt next month when the Commission examines the role of the police and the YMCA, with more distress in November when the Anglican diocese of Grafton comes under the spotlight. Yet the truth must come out and wrongdoers must be held to account.

The impatient may baulk at Justice McClellan's early warning that the Commission is unlikely to meet its deadline of an interim report by next June, and that he and his five co-commissioners may well need to investigate beyond the tentative end date of 2015.

But meticulous scrutiny cannot be rushed, nor should it be when the safety and wellbeing of children is at stake.

Australians must feel they can trust our national institutions' care of children, and trust can only come if the Commission can demonstrate diligence.

The future of our kids depends on it.

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