The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse sat at 9.30am on Thursday the 14 December in Sydney for the last time.

The Chair Justice McClellan noted that on 12 November 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the creation of the Royal Commission, which was to be a national commission held jointly with each of the States and Territories.

On 11 January in the following year the Letters Patent were issued.

The Royal Commissions held its opening sitting in Melbourne on 3 April 2013.

Since that date the Royal Commission has dealt with the following:

  • 41,770 Calls handled
  • 25,774 Letters and emails received
  • 8,013 People have come and spoken with a Commissioner in a private session
  • 2,559 Referrals to authorities including the Police
  • 1,300 Survivors provided written accounts of their experiences
  • 230 Prosecutions have commenced

The Royal Commission conducted a total of 57 cases studies resulting in 44 separate reports to government.

Due to ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions, the Royal Commission has provided that case study reports relating to Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat and Melbourne and some events in New South Wales and the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle should be suppressed in whole or in part until the outstanding criminal matters have been concluded.

More than 680 people worked for the Royal Commission during its life, across the varied range of activities it carried out and quite extraordinarily in addition to having completed the task in a timely manner the Royal Commission has done so within budget.

4,000 individuals were reported to the Royal Commission as places where abuse occurred and the Royal Commission noted that many of the institutions examined did not have a culture where the best interests of children were the priority.

They found the failure to protect children was not limited to institutions providing services to children. Some of the most important State institutions failed to protect children in the following ways:

  • Police often refused to believe children
  • Child protection agencies did not listen to children
  • The Criminal Justice System created barriers to the successful prosecution of alleged perpetrators
  • The civil law system placed impossible barriers on survivors trying to bring civil compensation claims.

The Royal Commission found that in many religious institutions, the power afforded to people in religious ministry, and the misplaced trust of parents combined with the culture, practices and attitudes within those religious institutions created risk for children.

Lawyers do not escape scrutiny either, the Royal Commission says that in some cases the aggressive hand of the lawyer was engaged, ensuring that an appropriate and just response to a survivor was not possible.

The Royal Commission cautions that sexual abuse of children is not just a problem from the past, it continues today. It heard cases of abuse that occurred in the last 10 to 15 years that took place in schools, religious institutions, foster and kinship care, respite care, health and allied services, performing arts institutions, childcare centres and youth groups. It heard in private session from children as young as seven who told they had been recently abused.

Today the Royal Commission has given its final Report detailing its conclusions and recommendations to the Governor-General. The report covers a broad range of issues relating to both government and institutions, however, if solutions are to be found, change must be made and that change must include change in the culture, structure and governance practices of many institutions.

The experiences and findings of the Royal Commission are sadly not unexpected, they mirror similar findings in many national inquiries to date. Also the fact that abuse is ongoing is no surprise to those of us who operate in and/or work in this area. We must all be alert to the fact that child abuse is not purely a historic phenomenon. There is still much to do at every level of society and government to put the best interests of children first.

However, what is striking is one of the last observations that the Royal Commission made at its hearing yesterday. It noted that while it had been concerned with the sexual abuse of children within institutions, the Royal Commission reminds us all that it is important to remember that the number of children who are sexually abused in familial or in other circumstances far exceeds those who are abused in institutions.

The Final Report in 17 volumes with 189 new recommendations is now available for review and consideration. We will provide further updates on this matter in the coming days.