Inquiry recommends new child sex abuse crimes

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Victims groups say they’re satisfied with the outcome of a Victorian parliamentary child sex abuse inquiry.


The inquiry handed down its findings in an 800-page report which recommends making it a crime in Victoria to conceal sexual abuse by organisations.

Darren Mara has this report.

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The inquiry committee’s report recommends that people in positions of authority should be criminally responsible for placing children at risk of harm by other individuals.

Tabled in the Victorian parliament, the report comes after months of committee hearings, during which victims and Victoria Police alleged the Catholic Church had concealed child sexual abuse by clergy members.

The report states that it’s only in recent months that senior members of the Catholic Church have accepted responsibility for the church’s failure to pay due regard to the safety of children.

It’s also recommended that an independent statutory body be established to monitor and oversee the handling of sexual abuse allegations.

The chair of the Victorian inquiry, Georgie Crozier, says allegations of child sexual abuse across a range of organisations had been mishandled.

But she says the committee’s findings should be a watershed moment for abuse victims.

“I’ve been very encouraged by organisations throughout the course of the inquiry about what they have said, especially the Catholic Church. They have said to us that they will willingly work and cooperate with government in the recommendations of this report. So, we’re encouraged by that.”

The inquiry heard from more than 450 victims and its report names the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army as the main culprits.

Among the inquiry’s 15 major recommendations is a call for new laws making it a crime to conceal child abuse offences, to “groom” a child for sexual abuse, and to place a child at risk.

The report also calls for the removal of barriers to civil litigation through the creation of an independent scheme for victims of child abuse.

Georgie Crozier says taxpayers will not be asked to fund any compensation deals.

“So, in relation to compensation they are issues that the organisation needs to pay for. Government is not funding this. We would like organisations to come on board to be a part of this, to assist with the administration component of it and also to pay out any compensation and ongoing support or needs.”

The Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has welcomed the report’s findings and called on organisations such as the church to study them closely.

Dr Napthine says the state government will take up the key recommendations.

“We will commence immediately drafting legislation to implement a number of the key recommendations, including creating a new grooming offence, creating a new child endangerment offence, making it clear that it is a crime to conceal criminal child abuse offences and removing any inappropriate time impediments or limitations with respect to access to justice for victims.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart says the church acknowledges the failings highlighted in the parliamentary report.

However, Archbishop Hart says the Catholic Church won’t require priests to divulge child sexual abuse if someone confesses to them in private.

The Archbishop says he accepts that some abuse victims may take court action against the church.

“Particularly the recommendations about criminalisation about the responsibility to proper care and the responsibility to report, we support totally. The whole question of people’s ability to sue the church, we don’t step back from that.”

Victims groups have welcomed the report and its recommendations.

The advocacy group Broken Rites is calling the report a milestone that validates the innocence of sex abuse victims and the guilt of organisations like the Catholic Church.

Dr Cathy Kezelman from the Adults Surviving Child Abuse group says the inquiry’s report is substantial and hard-hitting.

Dr Kezelman has welcomed Premier Napthine’s commitment to fast action on the key recommendations.

And she says he hopes it can clear the path to compensation for abuse victims.

“There have been a lot of blocks to the system, structural blocks in terms of institutions that can’t be legally sued. There have been statute of limitation blocks and of course a lot of survivors as a result of their abuse don’t have the capacity to negotiate difficult systems so what we do need to see is an independent body that can help support survivors through this process so that people can find justice.”

The Victorian parliamentary inquiry was separate to the national Royal Commission that is currently underway, into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.



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