NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
AFA calls for wide-ranging inquiry into child sex abuse
, December 8, 2012
Following a national outcry over widely-reported public statements by police and witnesses to both the NSW and Victorian inquiries into child sexual abuse involving the Catholic Church, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the establishment of a royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse in Australia.
In New South Wales, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox publicly called for a royal commission, after stating on the ABC program Lateline that he had irrefutable evidence of a network of paedophile priests in the Maitland diocese. He also said he had been transferred to other duties while investigating child sexual abuse allegations against several priests in the Maitland area.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox on ABC’s Lateline
In Victoria, victims of child sexual abuse criticised the Church’s response to abuse allegations against priests and teachers, and the police alleged that some religious orders had covered up abuse or protected members suspected of abusing children.
At the time of writing, the Prime Minister’s Department has established a secretariat which is considering the terms of reference for the inquiry.
Its first action was to issue a consultation paper, which sought community input into the terms of reference of the inquiry.
One of the organisations which made a submission was the Australian Family Association.
The AFA said, “The terms of reference should be drawn widely to consider not only particular allegations of child abuse but the incidence of child abuse.”
It said that the inquiry should examine the incidence of child sexual abuse in both government and non-government institutions and organisations.
“Government agencies should include government schools and kindergartens, out-of-home care accommodation for wards of the state, foster care, relevant government departments such as the Department of Education, Department of Human Services, Department of Health, government child-protection units, and Children’s Commissioners.
“Non-government organisations or institutions should include all churches and religious organisations and institutions where there is involvement with children, and community organisations such as sporting clubs [and] scouts.”
The AFA submission also called for findings into “all departments, agencies, institutions and organisations investigated to be made public”.
It said the commission should examine the response of both government agencies and non-government organisations to allegations of child sexual abuse by their employees or representatives, and examine the role of law-enforcement agencies, including the police and the legal system, in responding to allegations of sexual abuse of children and in prosecuting the perpetrators.
“The terms of reference should include consideration and examination of mandatory reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse to the police by both government and non-government agencies, organisations and institutions and their employees and representatives,” it said.
They should also include an examination of protocols already existing in both government and non-government sectors to deal with allegations of sexual abuse, to consider their effectiveness. “Where existing protocols are found to be defective or not to protect victims, the commission should make recommendations whether they should be amended or replaced.”
The AFA said that the royal commission should look at what assistance can be given to the victims of child sexual abuse in terms of professional support and examine whether a national compensation scheme for victims of child sexual abuse should be set up and, if such a scheme were recommended, how it should be funded.
The AFA called for an examination of the effectiveness of existing sex-offender registers at state and federal levels to prevent sex offenders from having easy access to children.
It also said the terms of reference should include examination of whether there are successful rehabilitation programs for sex offenders to reduce the incidence of re-offending.
It suggested that the current NSW and Victorian inquiries, which have more limited terms of reference, should continue, and that their findings should be fed into the national royal commission, which will take longer to complete.
The AFA said the royal commission should also examine the causes of sexual abuse of children, review the research available, and hear evidence from qualified people who have experience working in the area of child sexual abuse.
It said that unless this is part of the commission’s inquiry, its impact on reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse will be seriously impaired.
The success of the royal commission will surely be measured in terms of whether its findings and recommendations have an effect on reducing the incidence of abuse.
“Pornography, the sexualisation of children in advertising, family breakdown and the number of children in out-of-home care — all are factors that have been identified as creating a society in which children are more vulnerable to abuse,” it concluded.