Victims of criminal child sexual abuse in Australia gathered for an emotional national apology on Monday, as grief and remembrance replaced partisanship in federal Parliament.
I sat in my room in the Clinic in Burwood on my own not knowing whether to turn on the television or not. Not sure whether I could bear to watch it, desperately afraid of the emotions that it would bring up. I did not know whether those emotions would be ones of sadness, anger, grief or desperation at my ongoing illness. I should have been in group therapy at the time but decided that in the end I would watch it and miss group.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison led the apology following a recommendation from the landmark royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse, acknowledging that Australian society and religious institutions had covered up crimes and not believed victims for generations.
He paid tribute to survivors and advocates who sought recognition and justice and said victims who were no longer alive had deserved protection and respect.
“While we can’t be so vain to pretend to answer, we must be so humble to fall before those who were forsaken and beg to them our apology,” Mr Morrison told a silent House of Representatives.
“A sorry that dare not ask for forgiveness; a sorry that dare not try and make sense of the incomprehensible or think it could; a sorry that does not insult with an incredible promise.
“A sorry that speaks only of profound grief and loss; a sorry from a nation that seeks to reach out in compassion into the darkness where you have lived for so long.
“Nothing we can do now will right the wrongs inflicted on our nation’s children.”
Former prime minister Julia Gillard returned to Parliament for the event, sitting in the House of Representatives with Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters were abused by a Catholic priest in Melbourne, and Leonie Sheedy of the Care Leavers of Australia Network.
Ms Gillard received a standing ovation from the hundreds who joined a ceremony later in Parliament’s Great Hall, recognition of her star status with the group for her role in establishing the royal commission in November 2012. It was that Royal Commission in 2012 that triggered my Complex PTSD and I had my breakdown and my suppressed memories resurfaced and I have struggled with DID and Complex PTSD ever since.
“I do want to take this opportunity to record my thanks to all of you for your courage, for your determination, for your stoicism,” Ms Gillard told the event.
“It took many years to get to this moment but we are only at it, not because of me, but because of you.”
The government said it would make annual reports to Parliament on progress of the commission’s recommendations and would establish a new national museum to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse.
Mr Morrison said the newly established National Office of Child Safety would be located in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and would report directly to him.
More than 17,000 survivors told their stories to the commission, including about 8000 recounting their abuse in private sessions.
The Coalition has accepted 104 of the commission’s 122 recommendations, while the other 18 are being examined in consultation with states and territories.
Survivors, advocates and family members who travelled to Canberra watched the event from inside the chamber and on the lawns outside Parliament House.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said abuse continued in Australia and only meaningful changes in the law and practices of care and religious orders could see real justice achieved for victims.
“Our nation let you down,” Mr Shorten said.
“We are sorry for every childhood stolen, every life lost. We are sorry for every betrayal of trust, every abuse of power.
“We are sorry it has taken so long to say these words.”
He said the true measure of the apology would not be known for months and years to come.
“It should be this day that people say there was a redoubled commitment to action.”
As part of a new national redress scheme, victims of child sexual abuse can apply for compensation of up $150,000 each, receiving support and counselling and a formal apology from the institution responsible for their abuse.
I can only hope that these bi-partisan apologies are heartfelt and that they will keep to their word and follow through with their promises. I was very moved by their words. It did mean something to me. My abuse didn’t happen in Australia but in Ireland but hearing an apology for Institutional abuse from any Government means a lot. I didn’t think it would but it did. I was touched and I was affected by the responses of the victims and their reactions. What did shock me, however, was how young some of the victims were. Many were only in their twenties and thirties. Many were in their sixties and fifties but it’s shocking to think it’s happened to so many so recently. So sad.
I dearly hope we have gone a long way to stamping out abuse in Institutions. I do want to believe there are checks and balances in place now to prevent such atrocities from happening again. It certainly won’t be from the lack of trying.