SYDNEY: Australia will issue a national apology to victims of child sexual abuse in public or religious institutions by the end of the year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Thursday. after a five-year inquiry detailed harrowing stories from victims.
The Prime Minister noted that the victims would be consulted so that they felt comfortable with the process, which would be finalised during the current parliamentary session, reports Efe news.
A royal commission established in 2012 to investigate abuse was contacted by more than 15,000 survivors with claims — some decades-old — involving churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools.
“As a nation, we must mark this occasion in a form that reflects the wishes of survivors and affords them the dignity to which they were entitled as children, but which was denied to them by the very people who were tasked with their care,” he said.
“Reading some of the witness statements, it’s clear that being heard and being believed means so much to the survivors ... Three words: ‘I believe you,’ coming after years, often decades, of authorities’ denial of responsibility.”
The royal commission released its final report in December and said more than 4,000 institutions were accused of abuse, with many of them Catholic-managed facilities.
It made 409 recommendations, which Turnbull said his government was working through, including a national redress scheme that would support survivors with counselling, psychological care and financial payments.
Canberra has budgeted Aus$33.4 million (Dh 96.39 million, US$26.1 million) for the scheme, with survivors eligible for payments of up to Aus$150,000.
Turnbull urged state governments and institutions to commit to the scheme, which is due to start in July, in remarks supported by Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten who was part of the previous government when it ordered the inquiry.
“The money does matter. Compensation does help get people, at least, get back on their feet a bit,” he told parliament.
“But it’s also a tangible admission that the institution was at fault and they should pay for their wrongs.”
Survivor advocate Leonie Sheedy of the Care Leavers Network welcomed the proposed apology but said taxpayer-funded organisations that committed or did not investigate abuse, such as orphanages and the police, should also say sorry.
“They need to be on their knees begging for forgiveness of us, the victims, and also apologising to the nation,” she told AFP.
How the inquiry progressed
■ In 2012, Julia Gillard, the then prime minister of Australia announced the appointment of a commission to look into the institutional child sexual abuse cases a matter survivors and their advocates had been pursuing for years following allegations in Australia and in other countries, notably the US and Ireland. “There has been a systemic failure to respond to it,” Gillard said.
■ The commission’s task was to probe any private, public or non-government organisation that was involved with children, and this included schools, sporting clubs and orphanages.
■ In December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse presented its final report with more than 400 recommendations on the issue, which was labelled by the Commission as a “national tragedy”.
■ The commission’s work officially began in 2013. During the five-year inquiry, the Commission interviewed more than 8,000 victims who suffered sexual abuse committed by members of more than 4,000 public institutions in the country since the 1920s.
■ More than half of the victims said they were between 10 and 14 years old when they were sexually molested for the first time and that the abuse lasted for an average of two and a half years, while 36 per cent of them were assaulted by several attackers.