SenateHansard 19-June-2002 Page 2140
MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST: Children: Sexual Assault
Senator MURRAY (Western Australia) (1.15p.m.) —The criminal sexual assault of children is an appalling crime,because it is a crime perpetrated on the most vulnerable members of oursociety. It is an appalling crime because it has a lifetime effect on thevictim and because of the savage cost to society of this evil. The scale ofthis crime—the number of victims and the number of criminals—hasnever been properly assessed inAustralia.Until recently, the sexual assault of children has largely been viewed as anoccasional individual crime. That it has also been organised and protected hasremained relatively hidden. The grim truth and the grim statistics are slowlyunfolding.
There are two types of criminals and two types ofcrime: those who commit the crime of sexually assaulting children, and theirfellow travellers, their accomplices, and those who criminally conspire toconceal those crimes and protect the perpetrators. Some church leaders arerightly accused—but far too few have been charged—with aiding andabetting, being an accessory after the fact, obstructing the administration ofjustice, compounding a felony and criminal conspiracy.
There is a third category of villains. They includeany politicians who refuse to address the problem, who have manufacturedstatutes of limitation that prevent victims having their day in court, who donot, or will not, permit mandatory reporting, who have poor public policy inthis area or who starve good agencies of money and resources. This class ofvillain includes every churchman who advocates hush-up internal procedures forkeeping paedophiles out of the hands of the police. It includes defence lawyerswho terrorise child sexual assault victims who come forward, DPP offices whichdeliberately let files die, police who defer to a cleric's collar rather thanto a victim's pain, spineless people in the bureaucracy and health sector whohave not done their job, and church leaders who pay hush money.
Then there are the warriors: determined police,dedicated lawyers, courageous health and social workers, community crusadersand priests who loathe the evil in their midst.
All over the world, new stories keep emerging aboutthe previously hidden history of the common sexual assault of children bypriests and their subsequent protection by the church authorities. And, allover the world, the victims are starting to call the churches to account.
In the Australian of14 June, it was reported that prelates who had protected priests or otherchurch workers accused of sexual assault headed at least 111 of the 178 majorCatholic dioceses in theUnited States. The Agereported on 19 April that, in theBoston diocese alone, the Catholic Church hasset aside $US30 million for victims of just one jailed priest who was accusedof molesting 130 children over 30 years. On 14 April this year, RadioNational's Background Briefing reportedon child sexual abuse and the churches, and gave some staggering figures. Forinstance, in theUnited States, 2,000 Catholic priests have beendisgraced because of their abusive behaviour, with many facing prosecution inthe criminal courts. The church has agreed to pay out
hundredsof millions of US dollars to victims. InIreland earlier this year, theCatholic Church reached an agreement with the government to provide $A213million in compensation to some 3,000 victims of assault in 18 churchinstitutions. InCanada,the Anglican diocese of Caribou went bust because it literally ran out ofresources to pay compensation to victims of sexual assault. Here inAustralia theAnglican Church is facing a financial battering, with dozens of abuse victimssuing the church. Lastly, the report stated that more than 100 clergy from theCatholic and Anglican churches have been convicted of child sexual assault inthe past five years.
InAustraliathe Eros Foundation, in its 2000 publication, Hypocrites,stated that during the 1990s Australian courts dealt with nearly 450 individualchild sexual assaults by priests. We also know that 250 men from the Voicesgroup put in Australia's first sexual assault class action a decade ago,detailing thousands of assaults on children by the Christian Brothers. Thosebrave pioneers could not get remedy through the criminal courts, and amalicious church wore them down in the civil courts. Last week, we learnt of arecord payout when the St John of God Catholic religious order agreed to pay$3.6 million in compensation to 24 intellectually disabled victims of sexualassault at boys homes inVictoriabetween 1968 and 1994.
Bearing in mind that the vast majority of adultssexually assaulted as children will never come forward, the numbers who havetaken action inAustraliaare high. The Bulletin magazineof 18 August quoted 1,000 cases inAustralia being pursued right now.The possible numbers are frightening. In theUnited States, the former monkRichard Sipe, who has formidable qualifications, reveals in the Sipe report,and without apparent fear of contradiction, that five to seven per cent ofUnited States Catholic priests have molested children. It is good that 94 percent of United States Catholic priests are likely to be okay. But if six percent of 50,000 United States Catholic priests were to have sexually assaultedan average of 100 children over a 50-year career span, you would be talkingabout 300,000 victims. There is no research here to tell us what the Australianpercentage is, but, on the same figures, six per cent of the 4,500 Catholicpriesthood inAustraliawould mean 270 would have molested Australian children. Multiply that by apossible 100 victims over a paedophile priest's lifespan and we would have27,000 Australian victims.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report,Child Protection Australia 2001-2002,reveals a very grim picture. For instance, the number of substantiated cases ofabused and/or neglected children was 27,367 in 2000-01. Of thesesubstantiations, a total of 3,794, or 14 per cent, were for sexual assault.
All research indicates that estimating the extent ofchild sexual offences in the community is very difficult. With the high levelof underreporting, we will likely never know the true extent of the problem.Secrecy and intense feelings of shame generally prevent children, and adultsaware of the abuse, from seeking help.
Research and experience show that it is not untilvictims are much older adults that they are able to confront and deal withtheir painful and traumatic childhood experiences. By then, the unjust natureof statute of limitations laws prevents those responsible being prosecuted.
The extent and nature of the criminal assault ofchildren meanAustraliais burdened by considerable social and economic consequences. A significant percentageof these victims can descend into any of welfare dependency, failed ordysfunctional relationships, unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse,abuse, crime and suicide.
Australian statistics back this up. For instance,volume 19(2) of the 1994 Alternative LawJournal reports that 80 to 85 per cent of women in Australianprisons have been victims of incest or other forms of abuse; a study of 27correctional centres in New South Wales found that 65 per cent of male andfemale prisoners were victims of child sexual and physical assault; and the NewSouth Wales Child Protection Council reported in 1992 that the probability offuture delinquency, adult criminality and arrest for a violent crime increasedby around 40 per cent for people assaulted and neglected as children.
Various other studies reveal that a high percentage ofthose leaving care had suffered child sexual assault and that a high percentageof people suffering from severe mental illness had been the victims of childsexual and physical assault. How terrible to discover the part that churchprotected paedophiles have played in all this.
The economic costs are likely as large as the socialcosts. InSouth Australia,the Department of Human Services conservatively estimated the cost of childabuse and neglect in 1995-96 to be $354 million. That figure is more than the$318 million the state earned in the same period from wine exports, or the $239million from the export of wool and sheepskins.
Something is terribly amiss if the Australiangovernment can ignore the pressing moral and social imperative and urgent needfor a royal commission into the sexual assault of vulnerable children. Underthe Royal Commissions Act, royal commissions have wide powers, includingcompulsory interrogation, punishment for contempt and the issuing of searchwarrants. Judges sometimes head royal commissions but they do not exercisejudicial power. A judicial inquiry is sometimes used as a synonym for a royalcommission. It is more commonly simply a government inquiry headed by a formerjudge, but it may also be quite specific under a statute.
An inquiry into the scale of the sexual assault ofchildren and the concealment of crimes within churches or other institutionscould only ever be successfully pursued through a royal commission, because ofthe powers attached to them to issue warrants, pursue discovery and initiate athorough investigation. A royal commission is ordinarily appointed when thereis no other way to deal with a major problem and where there is widespreadnational public concern. If there is any case that warrants a royal commission,it is this.
Such is the growing public outrage inAustralia aboutchild sexual assault, and particularly the role of the churches in it, that wecan no longer ignore the calls for a royal commission. This is a vice which hasaffected the lives of probably hundreds of thousands of Australians. Cases ofchild sexual abuse perpetrated by the religious and others must be faced, nomatter how difficult that may be. They are not to be trusted to curethemselves, and they have breached their sacred mission. The state musttherefore act. In an article titled `Church needs the law of man' in the Age on 6 June,
Dr Chris Goddard, the director of the Child Abuse andFamily Violence Research Unit atMonashUniversity, said thefollowing:
Thereappear to be many opportunities for the full force of the criminal law to bebrought to bear upon those in positions of power who have not taken reasonablesteps to protect children. Surely, the bishop who has transferred from oneparish to another a priest who is the subject of complaints has failed in hisduty of care to the children of the next parish? Aiding and abetting, being anaccessory after the fact, obstructing the administration of justice,compounding a felony, even criminal conspiracy, are crimes that would spring tomind if it were drug dealing or car theft that we were concerned about.
I remind the Senate that inAmerica they are using theracketeering laws to get at those very vices.
I end by reminding the Senate what Nelson Mandela saidwhen he visitedAustralia:
A nationthat doesn't protect its children isn't fit to be a nation.
for a listing of alternate locations.