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Victorian Government Moves on Child Abuse Report


Thursday, 14th November 2013 at 10:13 am
Lina Caneva, Editor
The Victorian Government moves to draft legislation to reflect the recommendations of a damning Victorian Parliamentary report into the handling of child abuse particularly within the Catholic Church.

Thursday, 14th November 2013
at 10:13 am
Lina Caneva, Editor


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Victorian Government Moves on Child Abuse Report
Thursday, 14th November 2013 at 10:13 am

The Victorian Government says it will move immediately to draft legislation to reflect the recommendations of a damning Victorian Parliamentary report into the handling of child abuse particularly within the Catholic Church.

Victorian Premier Dr Denis Napthine thanked the Parliamentary Committee for its report saying Committee’s recommendations will be considered as a matter of urgency by the Government.

The report calls for a new law to ensure that people who fail to report serious child abuse or concealing it are guilty of an offence.

The report also called for an Independent Statutory Body to monitor the handling of allegations of child abuse by religious and non-government organisations as well as significant changes to the Crimes Act including new crimes of ‘grooming’.

The Victorian Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee released its report from the Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations entitled "Betrayal of Trust".

"I'm ashamed and embarrassed by the actions of the Catholic Church, or the lack of actions on these matters," the Premier, who was raised as a Catholic, said.

“The protection of our children is paramount. They cannot be expected to protect themselves from these crimes, and it is up to the Government, this  Parliament, and the community to look after and stand up for our children," Dr Napthine said.

“The Government also urges all organisations whose activities involve children to examine this report to see what changes to policies and practices they can and should be making to better protect the children for whom they have responsibility."

The report said that while there is no way it could accurately count the total number of victims of criminal child abuse in non-government organisations it could reasonably estimate that there have been several thousand victims criminally abused in non-government organisations in Victoria alone.

It said the evidence and information provided to the Inquiry showed that even today, leaders of some non-government organisations were reluctant to fully acknowledge that they adopted policies that gave first priority to protecting the interests of their organisation.

“It is beyond dispute that some trusted organisations made a deliberate choice not to
follow processes for reporting and responding to allegations of criminal child abuse,” the report said.

“There has been a substantial body of credible evidence presented to the Inquiry and
ultimately concessions made by senior representatives of religious bodies, including
the Catholic Church, that they had taken steps with the direct objective of concealing
wrongdoing.”

The Committee said it focused particularly on the religious organisations that the majority of evidence and other information received concerned — that is, the Catholic Church in Victoria, the Salvation Army and the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.

“Evidence to the Inquiry revealed that historically these organisations were often motivated by self-interest and the protection of the organisation. This resulted in serious consequences for the safety and protection of children,” the report said.

In regard to the Catholic Church specifically, the Committee found that rather than being instrumental in exposing the criminal abuse of children and the extent of the problem, senior leaders of the Church:
       • trivialised the problem;
       • contributed to abuse not being disclosed or not being responded to at all prior to
        the 1990s;
       • ensured that the Victorian community remained uninformed of the abuse;
       • and, ensured that perpetrators were not held accountable, with the tragic result               being that children continued to be abused by some religious personnel when it               could have been avoided.

“Only in recent months have senior members of the Catholic Church accepted responsibility for the church's failure to conduct its operations with due regard to the safety of children," the report said.

The Committee found that other organisations, particularly other religious organisations, share many of these features, which have continued to influence the responses of many organisations to allegations of criminal child abuse to the present day.

The Committee considered that such features and consequent responses by organisations may help to explain why many victims remain aggrieved. Importantly, it found that the way in which an organisation has handled reports of suspected criminal child abuse is inextricably linked to the desire of victims for justice.

The report recommends that the Victorian Government authorise an independent statutory body with relevant powers and legal and operational resources to:

  • ??oversee and monitor the handling of allegations of child abuse by relevant government departments, religious and non-government organisations;
  • ??undertake independent investigations into systems and processes in thecontext of allegations of reportable conduct and/or reportable convictions;
  • ??and, scrutinise and audit the systems and processes in non-government organisations for handling allegations of child abuse.

The report recommends that people in positions of authority should be criminally responsible for placing children at risk of harm by other individuals and that it give consideration to an amendment to the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) to create a criminal offence of grooming.

It also recommends that the Victorian Government review its contractual and funding arrangements with education and community service organisations that work with children and young people to ensure they have a minimum standard for ensuring a child-safe environment

It says the Government should consider amending the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) to specify that no time limits apply to applications for assistance by victims of criminal child abuse in organisational settings.

Another recommendation calls on the Victorian Government to consider the introduction of a criminal offence relating to child endangerment in organisations that covers relevant wanton or reckless behaviour.

The Committee said it welcomed the commitment made by many organisations during the course of the Inquiry to actively cooperate with any new schemes that the Victorian
Government establishes in response to the Inquiry’s recommendations.

“The organisations and individuals who were at least morally complicit in the crimes with which the Inquiry has been concerned, cannot be permitted to make superficial and professionally constructed gestures of regret and effectively walk away.

“Failure in either of these respects would constitute another reprehensible betrayal.”
The Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart has accepted the highly critical findings of the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into child abuse also saying the Committee’s report is rightly called “Betrayal of Trust”.

“It is our hope that the Inquiry, and its recommendations, will assist the healing of those who have been abused. We also hope they will enhance the care of victims and their families, and strengthen the preventative measures now in place,” he said in a statement.

“The report documents terrible abuse that occurred in the Catholic Church, mainly over a 25-year period from 1960 to1985. It also sets out inexcusable failures in the Church’s response to that abuse,” he said.

“As the Inquiry heard, we were far too slow to address the abuse, or even to accept that it was taking place. I fully acknowledge that leaders in the Church made terrible mistakes. These are indefensible.

“Victims bravely came forward to give their accounts, often at great personal cost. The Inquiry has been an important opportunity for victims to be heard.

“I have spoken before about this betrayal and the irreparable damage it has caused.
It is the worst betrayal of trust in my lifetime in the Catholic Church.

“We know that the long-term suffering of victims and their families continues. On behalf of the Catholic Church in Victoria I apologise again for these failures to the victims, to their families, and to the community,” the Archbishop said.

“The report has some criticisms of our processes, including the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing. It also acknowledges that these processes are a genuine attempt to respond meaningfully, and that they have provided assistance to many victims.

“We believe that they have supported victims who have come forward, and have helped prevent further abuse. At the same time, we accept we can do better and are committed to improvements wherever possible.”

Executive summary: https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/family-and-community-development-committee/Executive+summary+%26+recommendations.pdf

Whole Report:

Volume 1 (PDF 2.2Mb),

Volume 2 (PDF 4.0Mb)

 

Lina Caneva  |  Editor |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

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