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National Child Abuse Redress Scheme ‘Complicated’

July 16, 2015 ·  By www.probonoaustralia.com.au

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The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is about to release its recommendations around a national redress scheme but has warned that the solutions are not as simple as just paying out dollars.

The Chair of the Royal Commission Justice McClellan foreshadowed the redress recommendations and outlined the complexity of the issues at the Uniting Church in Australia’s 14th Assembly meeting, held at the University of Western Australia.

“Our terms of reference require us to consider justice for survivors,” Justice McClellan said.

“There are three avenues through which justice can be provided. The first two are the civil and criminal justice systems. However, legal proceedings often present insurmountable challenges, both financial and emotional, to survivors. There can be no doubt that for many people their only opportunity for justice will be through an effective redress scheme.

“The issue of redress raises many complex questions. They include who should be eligible, how should a scheme be funded, who should manage it, and what benefits should it provide.

“Two key requirements have been identified. The first is that the scheme must be structured in a way to ensure its independence. The institution in which abuse occurred should not be the scheme’s decision maker.

“A conflict of this nature has been a troublesome aspect of some redress schemes in the past. The second is that survivors should be treated equally regardless of the institution in which they were abused.”

Justice McClellan told the gathering that there are a number of forms that a redress scheme might take.

“One approach favoured by almost all of the institutions and survivor groups consulted with is a national scheme administered by the Commonwealth but funded by the relevant institutions, including the various Governments where institutional failures have occurred.

“This is self-evidently the approach which will meet the objective of equal justice for survivors. Each institution’s contribution to the cost of the scheme, including its administration, should be in proportion to the number of survivors abused in that institution.

“Of course some survivors will have been abused in institutions which no longer exist or which have no money. Ensuring funding for these survivors is a fundamental requirement of a just scheme.”

Justice McClellan said that for redress to be effective it must respond to the ongoing needs of survivors.

“It is clear that survivors need an apology from the institution. There must also be funding for counselling and psychological care. A money sum which adequately recognises the wrong done to the individual is also essential,” he said.

“A monetary payment by the institution can serve the dual purpose of both recognising the harm suffered by the survivor, as well as providing financial assistance to the many people who, as a result of their abuse, are struggling to secure the basics of life.

“Our recommendations on redress will be made public after the publishing of the Commission’s Final Report on Redress and Civil Litigation very soon. Our report will be provided to Government within a few weeks.”

He said the Royal Commission has also been holding private sessions conducted by one or two Commissioners to give an opportunity for a person to tell their story of abuse in a protected and supportive environment.

“We have now completed 3,766 private sessions. There are presently 1,527 people waiting in the queue. We receive applications for private sessions at a rate of almost 50 per week,” he told the gathering.

“I can also indicate that I have now referred 666 matters, most coming from private sessions, to police to investigate with a view to prosecution of an offender.

“The Royal Commission has, so far, received 13,256 allegations within our terms of reference. Approximately half of those allegations relate to faith based institutions.

“We have received 399 allegations in respect of abuse by members of Uniting Church institutions. This figure represents approximately 3 per cent of the total number of allegations.

“In addition we have received 106 allegations in respect of abuse by members of Presbyterian Church institutions and 62 in respect of abuse by members of Methodist Church institutions, the majority of which relate to incidents occurring prior to 1977. Of the 399 allegations 173 relate to institutions involved in out of home care. 164 relate to boarding schools.

“The Uniting Church institution with the highest number of allegations is Knox Grammar School with 137 allegations. That school was the subject of a public hearing of the Royal Commission in February this year. In total we have received allegations in relation to 132 institutions which are either Uniting Church, Presbyterian or Methodist institutions.

“A picture is emerging for us that although sexual abuse of children is not confined in time – it is happening today – there has been a time in Australian history when the conjunction of prevailing social attitudes to children and an unquestioning respect for authority of institutions by adults coalesced to create the high risk environment in which thousands of children were abused.

“The societal norm that “children should be seen but not heard”, which prevailed for unknown decades, provided the opportunity for some adults to abuse the power which their relationship with the child gave them. When the required silence of the child was accompanied by an unquestioning belief by adults in the integrity of the carer for the child, be they youth worker, teacher, residential supervisor or cleric, the power imbalance was entrenched to the inevitable detriment of many children. When, amongst adults, who are given the power, there are people with an impaired psycho-sexual development, a volatile mix is created.”

In March 2015, a Catholic Church submission to the Royal Commission said generous financial payments, ongoing care and support and a meaningful apology should be key elements of a national child sexual abuse redress scheme.

The Truth Justice and Healing Council’s submission to the Royal Commission’s redress and civil litigation consultation supported Commissioner McClellan’s call for Governments to establish an independent national redress scheme funded by the institutions responsible for the abuse.

The Federal Government has given the Royal Commission a further two years to complete its work.

“The Commission will now conclude at the end of 2017. I have told the Government that there will definitely be no request for a further extension,” Justice McClellan said.

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