Why Australia's National Apology to Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Matters
“I simply say I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you.”
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologised on behalf of Australia to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, after a royal commission report revealed the nation had long dismissed allegations of abuse and deeply failed to protect children and young people.
In a speech to Federal Parliament on Monday, Morrison announced the nation would now “confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice.”
"Today, Australia confronts a trauma — an abomination — hiding in plain sight for far too long. Today, we confront a question too horrible to ask, let alone answer. Why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected?” he stated. "To the children we failed, sorry. To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry.”
The apology was a recommendation from a $500 million royal commission, which over five years held 60 public hearings and heard from 1,200 witnesses and 8,000 survivors. The commission's final report announced the number of child victims were in the tens of thousands, before revealing that the long held abuse was “a national tragedy, perpetrated over generations within many of our most trusted institutions."
"It took many years to get to this moment, but we are only at it not because of me, but because of you,” former prime minister Julia Gillard, who initially established the royal commission in 2012, told the crowd.
Daryl Higgins, professor and director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies, wrote in an article for Australian news outlet The Conversation that the national apology was “not a hollow gesture.” The apology matters, he wrote, because until there is widespread recognition, people will feel as if their experiences are being “denied and silenced.”
"It matters because it is the first time an Australian government will acknowledge the failures by governments, faith-based, and other community organisations to keep children and young people safe, and to respond appropriately to allegations,” he stated. “It is important for us a nation. It is from all Australians. It provides formal acknowledgement of people who have suffered immense hurt.”
"She has done more to protect the safety and welfare of children into the future than all the other prime ministers combined.”— Alex Ellinghausen (@ellinghausen) October 22, 2018
- survivor Frank falls to his knees to kiss the feet of former PM Julia Gillard during the National Apology pic.twitter.com/eyTyEm4SGX
For sexual abuse survivor Ray Leary, the apology was incredibly appreciated albeit long overdue.
"For much of my life I was laughed at or ridiculed when I told the stories of the abuse I received growing up as a state ward,” he told AAP. “This apology is not only to the victims of child sexual abuse, but their families and their children. It means that the government, on behalf of the people of Australia, believe us and are apologising.”
In response to the 409 recommendations from the commission, the Australian government has established a National Redress Scheme which will offer survivors access to psychological counselling and compensation of up to $150,000. Among additional commitments, Morrison furthermore announced the government will establish a museum to record and document survival stories.