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Published: 02 August 2018
Author: RCT Abuse Law team

Why the Royal Commission's recommendations are so important – Melbourne Victims Collective

On Friday 27 July 2018, members of our Institutional Abuse team attended the Melbourne Victims Collective meeting to hear Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald.

The Melbourne Victims Collective is run by a dedicated group of volunteers. Ryan Carlisle Thomas has followed the work of the Collective closely and we admire their advocacy in child abuse matters.

Commissioner Fitzgerald spoke about his role in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child abuse. He stated that he personally spoke to 1,800 individuals who were victims of State Government institutions, the Catholic Church and public and private schools during the Royal Commission, most of whom were in prison. We found that this reflected our experience, dealing with clients of many and diverse backgrounds both nationally and internationally.

Commissioner Fitzgerald observed from his perspective as a practising Catholic, that overwhelmingly the Church abuse had a significant “double impact” on victims in that they not only suffered abuse, but they also lost their faith, their family and extended community.

Commissioner Fitzgerald discussed the recommendations of the Royal Commission, particularly those aimed at the Catholic Church to both stop and prevent further abuse into the future. It was alarming to learn that even today, priests are largely given no ongoing training and no ongoing supervision. The Commissioner pointed out that this reflects an historical preference for protecting predators over victims and we agree. Having dealt with such organisations, it is alarming to note the extent to which they will act to protect their reputation and their predator, rather than protecting a victim of child abuse.

Commissioner Fitzgerald took questions from the floor, and was asked what kind of people are attracted to the priesthood. He said that while narcissism is a common trait, priests are often also immature in every way and again are not provided with appropriate training to deal with vulnerable children. In common with other abusers, priests who abuse children fall generally into three categories. Firstly, they are predisposed to wanting to commit child abuse. Secondly, they discover that they can get away with abusing children, and begin a pattern of offending against children within the church environment. Thirdly, they have a strong problem with intimacy, which can be why they are attracted to the Priesthood in the first place, and this leads them to form long-term and inappropriate attachments to children. We find these traits common not only in Catholic Church claims but broadly across all institutional abuse claims.

There have been a number of recommendations which all need to be enforced, some of them are as simple as Standard 7:

Standard 7: Staff are equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to keep children safe through continual education and training. The core components of the Standard are considered to be:

a. Relevant staff and volunteers receive training on the nature and indicators of child maltreatment, particularly institutional child sexual abuse.

b. Staff and volunteers receive training on the institution’s child safe practices and child protection.

c. Relevant staff and volunteers are supported to develop practical skills in protecting children and responding to disclosures.

It’s hard to believe that standards such as the above still require framework and government intervention to be implemented.

With all of this in mind, Commissioner Fitzgerald’s talk highlighted the need for all of the Royal Commission’s recommendations to be implemented.

We will continue to push Government for this implementation so that survivors’ needs are addressed, and it is recognised that child sex abuse affects survivors’ relationships, education and religious beliefs. Commissioner Fitzgerald reiterated that changes to the law drive changes in culture, which are necessary to keep children safe. We will continue to support survivors to have lasting and practical changes implemented.

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