AT the end of a poignant and emotional week, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has handed down a set of 17 volumes that show just how deeply this five-year investigation has explored its terms of reference.
As firmly as this issue is now embedded in the national psyche, we must never forget there was a time when the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse struggled to be heard. That there was a time before some of our most powerful institutions were dragged, not always willingly, to account.
The commission says the primary responsibility for abuse lies with the abuser, but it could not avoid concluding that our broader society “failed” to deal with this aberrant behaviour.
As wide-ranging as the investigation was, a substantial amount of its time was devoted to the Catholic Church, which is similarly prominent when it comes to the 189 new recommendations made public on Friday
A number of the commission’s Catholic recommendations address those aspects of the church’s centuries-old code of canon law that allowed perpetrators to be viewed as moral failures rather than criminals.
Even so, the commission notes that before the 1990s, the Australian church often ignored canon law and used, instead, “a range of informal responses” that didn’t always work, allowing some perpetrators to continue offending despite multiple allegations of abuse.
Given the role the Hunter played in bringing about the royal commission, little of the evidence summarised in Friday’s report will come as a surprise to Newcastle Herald readers.
The important thing now is for the various governments and institutions to take on board the commission’s detailed recommendations, which are anything but cosmetic.
With earlier reports included, the commission is making a total of 409 recommendations, many of them multi-pointed. There is an immense body of material for legislators and institutions alike to pore over, and the commission has given them six months to prepare their responses.
Given that much – although not all – of the abuse examined by the commission could be termed “historical”, it is no accident that the first of its 189 new recommendations is for a federally funded study into the prevalence of abuse today, both in and out of institutions.
The commission might be over, but the changes it has put in place could reverberate for decades to come.