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Pope’s apology reinforces Royal Commission Final Report recommendations

This week the world witnessed Pope Francis apologise publicly for the Catholic Church 'long ignoring' child sexual abuse. In a rarely issued address to the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, titled ‘Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis To The People of God’ he said: "The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced."

While this is one small step towards healing for survivors, there is a long road to travel yet before our community can confidently see an end to Institutional abuse.

This news only highlights the need to focus on the recommendations of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (‘The Commission’) as tabled in Parliament on 15 December 2017.

At Ryan Carlisle Thomas we are privileged to represent thousands of clients in their pursuit of justice and compensation in relation to child sexual abuse and many have been involved in the Commission.

This week, we examine in more detail specific recommendations of the final report, totalling 114 pages, specifically the stated need for greater professional development and training to prevent future abuse.

Why do some adults abuse children?

In addressing this question, the Commission highlighted that while the stereotype of perpetrators as a ‘predatory child molester’ may be true in some cases, for the most part, there is no typical perpetrator. Instead, the Commission identified a series of situational, institutional, social and personal risk factors that have been associated with adult perpetrators.

The Commission found that there were a variety of ways in which institutions may facilitate abuse, unintentionally or otherwise, to varying degrees depending on the organisation. The likelihood of abuse can depend upon the culture, internal operations and nature of access that adult perpetrators have to the children.

The need for greater training

One of the key areas of concern identified was the level of training and education afforded to staff to equip them with the knowledge and awareness needed to maintain safe practices. These recommendations are not limited to faith-based organisations, but also extend to schools, detention centres and other state-run organisations.

The Commission recommended greater training for staff within these institutions to give them a better understanding of abuse, its impact on children and the principles of trauma-informed care. The Commission also stated the need for a national approach to the selection and screening of clergy and church workers as well as the implementation of mandatory national standards to facilitate regular professional development, supervision and professional responsibility.

The Commission also identified teachers as critical to identifying and responding to child sexual abuse in schools. As such, it was recommended that teachers and principals be given greater guidance as well as prevention education for tertiary students seeking entry into child-related jobs to adequately meet this demand.

Responding to complaints

Additionally, the Commission found that there was inadequate guidance within institutions about their existing reporting obligations.

It was found that many institutions had mishandled complaints and failed to properly investigate claims of child sexual abuse, leading to the inadequate protection of children. The Commission subsequently stressed the need for ‘clear, accessible and child-focused’ procedures for handling complaints and the implementation of clear codes of conduct within these institutions outlining inappropriate behaviour towards children as unacceptable.

From these recommendations, it is clear that while the Commission has done much in providing a level of transparency and understanding that had not been seen before in Australia, this alone is not enough. Rather, it needs to be coupled with serious action from our Institutions to address the culture that enabled this abuse and ensure that this does not happen again.

*Linda Le is a law student who is currently working with RCT as a paralegal.

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