Words are not enough for abuse victims

IT’S worth reflecting on just how far we have come as a nation, and as individuals, in our approach to the appalling, widespread tragedy of child abuse in this country.

On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood in Parliament and apologised, on behalf of all Australians, to the many tens of thousands of people who were cruelly and ruthlessly abused inside the very institutions where children should have been safe.

So too did the leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.

It’s so important for victims to have their stories believed, their pain and suffering properly acknowledged, and the offences openly and accurately recognised.

We say, at last as a nation, that we hear you, that we acknowledge the hurt and empathise with your pain, and that we are committed not to acquiesce in silence again.

We acknowledge such words are late, coming as they do years – sometimes generations – after the event, and that so many survivors endured tremendous psychological damage while the nation and its leaders said nothing.

 We acknowledge the criminally laggard manner in which governments and private institutions have approached the issue. 

National inquiries in 1997, 2004 and again in 2005 identified instances of abuse but failed to expose just how pervasive and systemic it was within schools, churches, orphanages, care centres, youth organisations and more.

It was only through brave survivors working with journalists and the persistence of the McClellan Royal Commission, which delivered its final report 11 months ago, that Australians could no longer ignore what was going on.

The Commission recommended oversight mechanisms to prevent abuse, extensive community prevention strategies, education for children and parents, social awareness and risk-awareness strategies, and more.

A national apology by itself cannot heal, and it may not bring closure.

It is, though, a moment of humility to be shared by the nation, a form of giving back to the victims and their families who had so much taken away from them.

Do not let the apology go unmarked. 

Take time to reflect, and fully commit to change.