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Yesterday was a good day for abuse survivors

Shine Lawyers | Lisa Flynn

Written by:
Lisa Flynn
Chief Legal Officer

Working with survivors of abuse every day and hearing the horrific nature of the abuse inflicted on them as small vulnerable children, and of the devastating impact the abuse has had on their lives, not every day is an easy one.

However, there were a few news stories that popped into my consciousness yesterday that caused my heart to lift a little. These bits of news indicate to me that the positive groundswell of change that the Royal Commission in to Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse created during its 5 year lifespan has continued. We are seeing evidence of further step by step change continuing to ensure that survivors of abuse get the support they so desperately need and to ensure that those responsible for the atrocities are held accountable.

Yesterday it was reported that the Archbishop of Adelaide – Philip Wilson - was found guilty of concealing child sexual abuse by a New South Wales court. The Archbishop had been charged with covering up child sexual abuse perpetrated by Priest Jim Fletcher in the NSW Hunter region in the 1970s. The court accepted that Wilson knew of allegations of abuse by Fletcher yet concealed this information from authorities as he had wanted to protect the church and its reputation.

Unfortunately, for many survivors of abuse, these circumstances of a person in authority not acting on reports of child abuse, are not unique. Time and time again we have heard of people in positions of power putting the reputation of the institutions that they represent above the need to respond to an allegation of child sexual abuse. Often this refusal to listen and to acknowledge and worse – blaming the victim– has had just as devastating effects on the survivor as the abuse itself, especially when that person with the power could have stopped the abuse.

What is different in this case that was reported yesterday, is that one of these powerful people has finally been held to account for his actions. The facts are that a young child had come to Wilson and asked for his help. The poor boy told Wilson what the other priest was doing to him in no uncertain terms. The boy told Wilson what was happening as he wanted his help and he wanted him to make it stop. Wilson did not help and did not stop it. And for this he is now paying the price of silence.

The power of this decision cannot be underestimated for survivors of abuse and yesterday was a win for the family of that boy. It signified a power shift – finally a poignant symbol of change away from the powerful and over to the powerless.

This news came with other necessary change; Australia became a step closer to having a National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse with Tasmania opting in to the National Scheme.

The National Redress Scheme was a key recommendation from the Royal Commission who found that it was extremely important for survivors of abuse to have access to financial assistance, counselling and a direct personal response (including an apology) from the institutions where the abuse occurred.

It is encouraging to see that now 6 States/ Territories have signed up to the scheme, which is due to commence on 1 July 2018. It is unfortunate that we are still waiting for the Western Australian and South Australian governments to make this commitment.

At the end of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in December last year, I spoke about how I feared that we would lose the excellent momentum that had begun to better support survivors of abuse and to stop abuse from occurring in the future. Yesterday showed that this is not happening and we are continuing as a nation to take steps in the right direction.

Written by Lisa Flynn. Last modified: May 22, 2018.

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