The National Apology for child abuse – Let’s support all victims

This week’s national apology to victims of child sexual abuse is an important acknowledgement of past failure to protect our children and young people. But it is vital that all people have the right to access compensation, support to rehabilitate, and an opportunity to heal, writes Jesuit Social Services’ Policy, Research and Advocacy Officer JEMIMA HOFFMAN.

The national apology to victims of child sexual abuse, delivered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in Parliament this week, is an important acknowledgement of past failure to protect our children and young people, and the pain and trauma experienced by survivors of abuse to this day.

Earlier this year, the National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse was established. The Scheme offers counselling, monetary payments, and direct personal responses to victims of child sexual abuse.

But as it stands, people in prison are not permitted to apply to the Scheme. A victim can also be denied access to redress if they have been sentenced to imprisonment for five years or longer.

Jesuit Social Services has advocated for a change to the parameters of the Scheme so that all survivors of institutional child sexual abuse can be granted the compensation and support they deserve.

The Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted the voices of survivors who explained that the experience of abuse contributed to their offending later in life – “survivors described the complex pathways which led them to engage in criminal behaviour, telling us about various social, cultural, institutional and family factors in their lives at the time of abuse and following the abuse, including disadvantage, maltreatment and trauma.”

Victims of child sexual abuse who later intersect with the justice system are particularly vulnerable. It is our duty to treat these survivors not as second class, but to acknowledge the full extent of the impact of their horrific experiences as children in the care of institutions charged with their protection.

The status of victim and offender are often intertwined. It is only fair that all people have the right to access compensation, have support to rehabilitate, and have an opportunity to heal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his apology that the National Redress Scheme, “will mean – that after many years, often decades, of denials and cover-ups — the institutions responsible for ruining lives admit their wrongdoing and the terrible damage they caused.” Yet under the current parameters of the Scheme, some institutions may not be held to account.

The national apology is a time for communities to acknowledge suffering caused by past wrongs. But it’s also an opportunity to prevent further harm.