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Mismanaging Expectations: The dominance of sexual abuse at the royal commission

One put it this way: In a place so full of brutality, sexual abuse did not rank as highly as other forms of abuse—such as mental and emotional torture…and the strings of punishment that never seemed to end.

Contemporary child protection statistics also shows that a focus on sexual abuse alone distorts the problem of child abuse. In Victoria in 2012-13, 10,048 children were the subject of substantiated investigations of whom 5,537 55 percent were substantiated cases of emotional abuse 2,709 27 percent of physical abuse, 1,319 13 percent of sexual abuse, and 483 5 percent of neglect.

But, as in Australia, it was sexual abuse which dominated the media. The Senate Committee of 2004 cited three survivor support and advocacy groups that pushed hard for a Royal commission: Bravehearts, for example, asserts that the offences of child sexual assault are different in nature from offences of child abuse and neglect and bundling child sexual assault in the suite of matters referred to collectively as child abuse and neglect was harming efforts to prevent child sexual assault.

There can be no doubt that clergy sexual abuse and what the church does—or does not do—about it exercises the minds of people in high places more than any other form of child abuse.

For example, Julia Gillard responded to a question about what tipped the scales in her seemingly sudden decision to establish the Royal commission. Ray Cassin argues that the chief impetus for the Royal commission was the disclosure of the appalling record of concealment of abuse in Catholic institutions, and the protection of perpetrators by church leaders: If that record did not exist, the royal commission would not exist.

And Catholics — especially bishops and major superiors — cannot evade this fact by complaining, as they sometimes do, about malicious reporting by hostile secular media.

2 thoughts on “Mismanaging Expectations: The dominance of sexual abuse at the royal commission”

If the abuses had not occurred, the reports could not have been written. The stories the media missed earlier became the story. Church leaders are aware of the power of mass media. However, the personalisation of the discussion can distract us from significant issues related to the relationship between church and state in Australia.

Author, researcher, historian and consultant specialising in child welfare

The then Leader of the Opposition and close personal friend of Cardinal Pell, Tony Abbott, had made it clear that bi-partisan support for a royal commission would only be given if it did not focus on just the Catholic church. Some make much of Gillard speaking to Pell—and no other church leader—before she announced the Commission.

Moreover, those who claim a plot against the Catholic church should be reminded of an earlier campaign to establish a royal commission which gained momentum from late 2001 through a prolonged scandal involving the Governor-General of Australia.

More to the point, he was the former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane—and his appointment as Governor-General caused some old tensions to resurface around the relationship between church and state in Australia.

The bitter public debate about his handling of clergy sexual abuse held the media in thrall. At the time, the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, and other notables, called for a royal commission into child sexual assault: Andrew Bartlett, Leader of the Australian Democrats voiced this concern: A private system of investigation and compensation, no matter how faithfully conducted, by definition cannot fulfil the responsibility of the State to investigate and prosecute crime.

Crime is a public, not a private, matter. The shame, ultimately, was vulnerable children had been criminally abused and society had let it happen—or worse, had abetted criminals. Father Frank Brennan, who previously opposed the establishment of a royal commission, expressed a widespread view that the state and civil society had to intervene in his church.

Conclusion Care Leaver advocacy groups struggled for years and thought they had finally won the royal commission they deserved. However, their expectations were not met. The royal commission has left many Care Leavers feeling disillusioned. This paper raised some critical questions: Why the exclusive focus on sexual abuse when other forms of abuse are more often reported? Why, when previous inquiries examined child abuse in closed institutions, this royal commission was extended to cover open institutions as well?

Why now, at this time, when Australian governments were not so long ago opposed to a royal commission into child abuse?

The answers are complex. Even within the survivor advocacy sector there were competing voices with influential stakeholders staunchly advocating for sexual abuse only. But ultimately, the voices of Care Leavers were overpowered by stronger voices both in the media and by other private and public lobbying for an inquiry into sexual abuse and particularly clergy sexual abuse.

In places, this debate has been interpreted as an anti-Catholic campaign but commentators both within the church and elsewhere have argued the political and civic necessity of state intervention in the processes used for the handling of child sexual abuse by clergy. The confluence of events over more than a decade built up a momentum that finally left the government no alternative but to intervene. International perspective, Palgrave Macmillan, London: Righting the Record — Report on child migration.

A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. Report on the progress with the implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Reports. Media, power, child abuse and public scandals, Policy Press, University of Bristol: Caring about the past — or past caring?

Kevin Rudd, MP http: See also submission 311. Toronto, University of Toronto Press. Foster, Reframing public discourse on child abuse in Australia. Child Abuse Prevention Newsletter v. Kitzinger 2004 Framing abuse: Pluto; Lonne B and Gillespie K 2014 How do Australian print media representations of child abuse and neglect inform the public and system reform?

  • Why the exclusive focus on sexual abuse when other forms of abuse are more often reported?
  • The first fundamental truth about the arab spring is that there never was one widespread neglect and wholesale abandonment of reconciliation s.

Child Abuse and Neglect Vol. Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. A Story of Moral Failure? Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations, Vol. Bad blood existed between the Army and Care Leavers who went public: The Ryan Report Ryan, S. Commission to inquire into child abuse report Volumes I — V. On 30 May 2014, the Commissioner delivered a four-volume report. Toronto, University of Toronto Press: The tone of the media in 2012 can be assessed through these examples: