The Royal Commission – recent developments

As the Royal Commission in to Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia progresses in its third year, having held over 5000 private sessions with victims and survivors and having to date concluded and published reports in to 22 investigations it leads the way as an example for what we are likely to see as the IICSA progresses in England and Wales and the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry proceeds in Scotland.

Case Study Reports

The reports published to date have focused on a wide variety of organisations including the YMCA, Anglican Church, Salvation Army, Roman Catholic Church, Swimming Australia Ltd, Australian Christian Churches, health care service providers and regulators, children’s homes and various schools. For some of the larger organisations mentioned above there has been more than one report published each focusing on a different area of issue.

For the Roman Catholic church this is now being followed by an overarching case study which will consider “a number of factors identified through our work including canon law, mandatory celibacy and the selection, screening, training and ongoing support and supervision of working priests and religious.” Issues Paper 11: Catholic Church Final Hearing identifies the matters in respect of which submissions are sought by 1 July 2016 including consideration of the current and future proposed approaches of the Catholic Church authorities when responding to survivors of child sexual abuse; its approach to individuals subject to allegations of child sexual abuse; and its actions to prevent child sexual abuse. A final hearing will proceed in Spring 2017 with an over-arching report produced thereafter.

Case study 27 considered child sexual abuse in the context of both private medical practice and public hospitals, by health professionals and hospital volunteers. The report concluded that “child patients are particularly vulnerable as they and their parents repose so much trust in medical practitioners that they permit those medical practitioners to view and touch intimate parts of the child’s anatomy. The private one-on-one settings of medical consultations and the propensity of child patients to follow instructions from adult health care providers without question place child patients in a highly vulnerable position.” One of the situations considered by the report included the accessibility certain individuals had to medical institutions. Although the IICSA has not as yet announced any investigations in the care sector it can only be a matter of time before matters such as Jimmy Savile’s access to hospitals, and Dr Myles Bradbury’s abuse of children he was treating, lead to an IICSA investigation in to health provision. NHS and private medical facilities should be considering their potential involvement in the IICSA now.

Public Hearings

From 21 June public hearings will commence in connection with the Australian Armed Forces case study. This will consider experiences of survivors of abuse between the period 1960-2000 at named locations and more generally in relation to cadets. Consideration will be made of systems, policies, practices and procedures and responses to disclosure of abuse. The IICSA does not have a current investigation directed at the Armed Forces but the Ministry of Defence was specifically referred to as an organisation which falls in to work stream 5 and as such it is reasonable to expect an investigation will be announced in due course.

Following the public hearings into criminal justice issues a series of public roundtables have been held to discuss a number of issues to assist in the Royal Commission’s criminal justice policy work.  The issues discussed were adult sex offender treatment programs in Australia and internationally; the Director of Public Prosecution’s oversight and complaint mechanisms; and the reporting of offences. This included consideration of a criminal offence for failing to report child sexual abuse, including the issue of blind reporting, where the alleged victim’s name or identifying details are not given to the police. These roundtables were, as the hearings are, streamed live.

Research and themes

The Redress and Civil Litigation Report recommended counselling and psychological care provided through redress should supplement, and not compete with, existing services. Further, the Royal Commission took the view that greater public funding for the provision of counselling and psychological care for survivors was warranted. Building on that report submissions were sought on advocacy, support and therapeutic treatment programmes. The submissions showed that “effective services are the ones that provide a seamless experience where victims and survivors are believed, feel safe and do not need to retell their story, however these needs aren’t always being met” The Royal commission also concluded that currently services are disjointed and often lack expertise in child sexual abuse, trauma and its impacts, resulting in an ineffective response to the needs of victims and survivors. These conclusions will be considered as part of the ongoing case studies and outstanding reports.

Finally of recent interest 2 research projects have been published which consider the importance of information sharing in connection with child sexual abuse across institutions and jurisdictions. These reports have concluded that laws and common objectives across institutions can help ensure that children’s safety is the primary consideration when sharing information, while laws and policies for information sharing need to be clear and well understood to be effective. They also demonstrate the importance of implementation as a factor in the success or failure of policy change.

All of these developments have been since early April 2016 and they show the breadth of issues which the Royal Commission, and inevitably the younger inquiries following in its midst, are considering. However it must be hoped that where there is overlap the later inquiries will seek to learn from the Royal Commission and not seek to reinvent the wheel in every jurisdiction.


Author

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Written by Paula Jefferson, partner

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