Child abuse commission shows its teeth

Girl sitting

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse ended 2013 and four months of public hearings with a sting. On the receiving end was YMCA NSW, which had spent weeks arguing it was also the victim of a pedophile who had infiltrated the self-proclaimed leading childcare provider.

The pedophile was Jonathan Lord, now 27, and in jail for six years. His victims were children aged between six and 11 who attended the YMCA childcare centre at Caringbah in south Sydney in 2010 and 2011.

Parents who were told YMCA NSW was a leader in child safety, even after Lord was arrested, were also victims, the commission has heard.

Up to December 20, the last sitting day for 2013, the YMCA tried to hold the line that master manipulator Lord had fooled junior staff who had been well trained but ignored child-safety protocols.

This argument was torn apart when Gail Furness, senior counsel advising the commission, delivered a damning indictment of the association based on the evidence so far.

She said YMCA NSW was not child safe when Lord worked there and may never be if the current senior management, CEO Philip Hare and children’s services manager Liam Whitley, continue in their jobs.

Furness queried whether they were fit and proper people to lead an organisation where the protection of children was paramount.

What happened with the YMCA is just a taste of what is to come.

Others can expect to be stung just as hard when the commission delivers its interim report on June 14.

Further findings on the YMCA and on two other case studies are likely.

Scouts Australia, the NSW Department of Community Services and the Children’s Guardian all had roles to play when it came to pedophile Steve Larkins taking charge of Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services (HACS) in 2000.

Scouts apparently knew of his activities in the early 1990s.

The commission’s mid-year report will likely have something to say about HACS.

Those involved in mishandling complaints by people who were horribly abused at an Anglican orphanage, the North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore NSW, can also expect a serve.

The mid-year report will name and shame, and may recommend criminal charges.

Up to 60 matters have already been referred to police by the commission. These arise from private hearings already held throughout the country.

Yet, all of this work is only the tip of a very big iceberg.

Part of the commission’s research work is to evaluate recommendations from at least 80 of some 300 related inquiries in Australia during the past three decades.

It is also examining what has happened overseas.

The Ryan Commission in Ireland took nine years, mostly because the Catholic Church took legal action. The Australian commission has learnt a lot from Ireland.

When former prime minister Julia Gillard announced this royal commission on November 12, 2012, she said such crimes against children were ‘insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject’.

The extent of the evil and the spread of institutions in which it occurs are still being revealed.

Chief commissioner Justice Peter McClellan speaks often of the inquiry’s role in bearing witness so it can fulfil Ms Gillard’s promise to abuse victims: ‘Even if you felt for all of your life that no one’s listened to you, that no one has taken you seriously, that no one has really cared, the royal commission is an opportunity for your voice to be heard.’

Thousands of people are coming forward to tell heart-wrenching stories of sexual, psychological and physical abuse at the hands of powerful people who were supposed to care for them.

From April 2013, when its phone lines opened, to the beginning of November, the commission had received 6362 phone calls and 2775 written and email enquiries.

By the time it rose in December, 1000 private sessions had been held throughout the country and calls were still coming in at an average of 22 a day.

About 50 per cent of abuse victims who contact the commission end up telling their stories at a private hearing.

Case studies for public hearings are built from information brought to these sessions.

The historical nature of the abuse brings with it legal and other problems.

The Catholic Church developed its own process to deal with a tsunami of allegations, the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, told the commission during a December hearing into the church’s Towards Healing program.

That hearing, which resumes on January 22, is just the first of many that will examine the Catholic Church and its agents.

A schedule has not yet been finalised, but public hearings are expected in Perth and other state capitals.

The McClellan commission is required to make a final report by the end of 2015 and is expected to recommend changes in laws, policies, practices and systems to better protect children from sexual abuse.

In early December it released a paper outlining its approach to examining the scope of justice for victims.

The paper pointed out justice for those who suffer child sexual abuse in institutional contexts may include the provision of redress.

Redress includes financial compensation and it was here that skirmishes were revealed in the two churches, Anglican and Roman Catholic, in 2013.

When wealthy institutions have a lot to lose, expect full-scale legal wars if the commission in 2014 or 2015 makes a recommendation that forces the opening of coffers.

Child Sitting

Source Sky News

Image Credit Sky News