The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is well and truly underway. Since it was established on 11 January 2013, the Royal Commission has used a number of means to access the information it requires to carry out its tasks.
- Releasing issues papers on topics of interest to its work and recommendations, to allow organisations and individuals an opportunity to provide their opinions and expertise.
- Holding private sessions that allow survivors to speak directly with a Commissioner about their experiences.
- Holding formal public hearings to hear evidence about child sexual abuse within institutions. These hearings do not focus on individual cases, but instead focus on case studies of how institutions have responded to allegations and proven instances of child sexual abuse.
- Holding roundtables to consider what institutions and governments should do to better protect children against child sexual abuse.
The Uniting Church in Australia issued a Values Statement, which said, “…we will not hide from the truth, however painful that may be, and will seek, with compassion and humility, to address whatever issues and challenges may emerge for us. We will say sorry to anyone who was sexually abused when in our care and, in consultation with those so affected, actively seek ways to make amends for what happened in the past and identify how we can best offer support into the future.”
The church also formed a National Response Task Group, and a series of Synod Task Groups. The WA Synod Task Group has met regularly to address a number of matters. Areas of work include:
- An audit of schools, agencies and congregations regarding information on cases of alleged child sexual abuse, where records are housed and what are the current practices and identifying areas for future improvement.
- Legal representation and insurance.
- Safe Church and Child Safe policies.
- Policy on ‘How to handle disclosures of historical abuse’.
- Training programs.
- Contributing to responses to issues.
It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure all children are safe within our church structures, programs and services. This will inevitably mean some changes to the way we have previously done things and some additional training. And yes, I can hear the groans; but that is far preferable to the hurting voice of a victim.
Rosemary Hudson Miller, acting general secretary of the Uniting Church in WA, and myself, Robert Watson, chairperson of the WA Synod Task Group are here to walk with you through this journey. If you have any questions please contact us at the Uniting Church Centre on 9260 9800.