Silenced voices, muffled cries: Australia apologises to survivors of institutional child abuse

Doug Hendrie

22/10/2018 3:22:42 PM

Australia’s Prime Minister has formally apologised to the tens of thousands of people sexually abused in institutions over decades.

A memorial tree sculpture erected outside Parliament House ahead of Prime Minister Morrison’s apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. (Image: Lukas Coch)
A memorial tree sculpture erected outside Parliament House ahead of Prime Minister Morrison’s apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. (Image: Lukas Coch)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave the national apology in Parliament as survivors of abuse sat in the galleries and many more listened on the lawns outside.
‘Today, Australia confronts a trauma, an abomination, hiding in plain sight for far too long,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘Silenced voices. Muffled cries in the darkness. Unacknowledged tears. The tyranny of invisible suffering. The never heard pleas of tortured souls, bewildered by an indifference to the unthinkable theft of their innocence.
‘As children, you deserved care and protection. Instead, the very people and institutions entrusted with your care failed you. You suffered appalling physical and mental abuse, and endured horrific sexual crimes.
‘As fellow Australians, we apologise for this gross betrayal of trust and for the fact that organisations with power over children — schools, religious organisations, governments, orphanages, sports and social clubs, and charities — were left unchecked.
‘Today, we say we are sorry. Sorry that you were not protected, sorry that you were not listened to. We are sorry for refusing to trust the words of children, for not believing you. As we say sorry, we also say we believe you. We say what happened was not your fault.
‘We are sorry that perpetrators of abuse were relocated and shielded rather than held to account, that records have been withheld and destroyed, and accountability avoided.’
Prime Minister Morrison said that many organisations where abuse occurred had already signed up to the National Redress Scheme, and called urgently for all remaining organisations to sign up. 
He pledged to establish a centre of excellence to raise awareness and understanding of the impact of childhood sexual abuse, and a national museum dedicated to victims and survivors of abuse.
GP Dr Chris Hogan told newsGP he hopes the apology will make the community take notice.
‘Hopefully, this apology will make the community finally realise the severity of the survivors’ suffering, how long it has affected them and how it still affects them,’ he said. 
Opposition leader Bill Shorten told survivors that today belonged to them.
‘I say to you here in the galleries, here in the Great Hall, on the lawns and beyond, I say to you in the big cities and country towns: today is because of you,’ he said.
‘Today is because of your advocates, your networks, your organisations and your leadership. It is you who have bravely fought the long battle for justice, for recognition, for truth to be believed. It is you who brought this day into being. It is you who kept coming forward, again and again.
‘You dug beneath scar tissue, you told strangers and people in power of the most terrifying moments in your memory.’
Sitting among the survivors was former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse five years ago. She spoke briefly to thank survivors for their courage, determination and stoicism.
In July, the government launched the National Office for Child Safety as part of its response to the Royal Commission findings.
GP Dr Tim Senior has previously written in newsGP about the vital role GPs play in responding to adult survivors of child abuse.
‘For GPs, it is important to remember that many adults who have experienced childhood abuse may appear unaffected,’ he wrote. ‘However, childhood abuse can adversely impact an adult’s functioning and affect their interpersonal relationships, parenting capacity, family functioning and mental health, which are often the cause of presentations to general practice.
‘For this reason, GPs should be alert to the possibility that adults with whom they speak may have experienced abuse or other adverse childhood events. Clues to a history of past trauma are often missed.
‘GPs are often highly trusted professionals, seeing people at vulnerable times in their life. It is not unusual that a person’s first disclosure of abuse – to anyone – is to their GP.’

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