By Demi Ball
When the Royal Commission released its final report into institutionalised child sexual abuse, over 8000 victims came forward to share their stories. And now, a new National Redress Scheme will be introduced to make sure their experiences are never repeated.
Faye* was in her early teens when she was sexually abused by a member of the Catholic Church. It was the 1960s, a decade where the Church was held in high regard.
“No one suspected anything. The priest was God.”
Faye’s story is one of the thousands of anonymous narratives that were included in the Royal Commission’s final report. For her, the effects of the abuse she suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church continue to impact her life today.
“You could get a million dollars, you could live in a mansion, it doesn’t matter – nothing takes the memories away. It happened 53 years ago and it’s still affecting me.”
The long-term effects of these issues have been documented in the Royal Commission’s report. Their findings have led the Australian Government to introduce the Redress Scheme, an initiative that will provide support and acknowledgement to sufferers of institutionalised child sexual abuse.
“The redress is made up of three factors: the monetary payment, the access to counselling and the direct personal response,” according to sexual abuse lawyer Prue Gregory.
Ms Gregory is the principal lawyer of knowmore, a free legal service that offers advice and support to victims of institutionalised child sexual abuse. She said that the scheme is the first of its kind internationally, “in that it’s the only scheme around the world dealing with multiple institutions.”
Many survivors, according to Ms Gregory, are men in their 60s and 70s, who were abused in the 50s and 60s. Similar to Faye’s story, many children suffered at the hands of religious institutions, which Ms Gregory said “was a time when children weren’t believed.”
She described the instances as a,“sad and distressing part of our history. As a society we let these people down.”
“All of our clients struggle with what’s happened to them as a child and the impact of that…but for Aboriginal people, there is an overlay of shame and embarrassment.
“A monetary repayment will never replacement the life that’s been lost.”
Dr Anne Cossins, who is a Criminology Professor at the University of New South Wales, believes it was a “lack of accountability, lack of policies, and lack of procedures,” that allowed institutions to get away with these behaviours.
The scheme will give survivors and their families “permission for these conversations to be taking place,” according to Ms Gregory, which she believes will have a significant impact on how it’s viewed in society.
She believes the scheme will offer a new insight into what governments are failing to do.
“Where are the gaps, why aren’t we hearing from the hearing impaired communities?”
The National Redress Scheme will take effect from July 1. The state governments of New South Wales, Queensland Victoria Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory will be the first to implement the initiative, with other state governments and institutions encouraged to ‘opt in’ in an effort to make the scheme a nationwide initiative.
Ms Gregory hopes that the scheme will see Australia become more accepting of people in particular circumstances.
“I’m hoping we will be less judgemental of people who have addictions, who are in prison, that we might stop and think: maybe we need to ask why this has happened.”
She believes the Redress Scheme will provide an acknowledgement to victims affected, and increase the awareness around institutionalised child abuse as an issue that needs to be further addressed.
“I think we are going to be horrified with the thousands of people that will come forward and that will tell its own story.”
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