Royal Commission reflections: Honouring survivor voices and impact (Week 1)

Reflections from survivor Lindsay on the 5th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 

Royal Commission outcomes 

I hold the opinion it was difficult for male survivors to come forward for the following reasons.  

  • Male culture dictated that men take punishment/abuse and don’t complain; they are expected to get on with the job. 
  • It was seen as not being part of the male team to complain about childhood abuse because you were viewed by self and others as a “whinger”. 
  • Male culture presents this winners and losers perspective. The winners are those who are independent, successful, problem free and held in esteem by the culture. You can see examples of this clearly in the sporting culture of our nation. 
  • Men keep secrets and it may only emerge into light from the actions of a significant other, family interactions or the recognition of addiction patterns in a life span.  

The benefits of the Royal Commission model were its engagement with the population of abused people, its interaction with this cohort and its follow up of the interactions.  

The Royal Commission used a series of strategies to gather information, e.g. private sessions, public hearings, document gathering, individual submissions. 

In my opinion the method of engagement with each person was significant. The person engaged was treated with respect, was believed and was acknowledged as having suffered a crime that affected their life experiences. This engagement method allowed people to come forward because they felt safe and supported. 

The interaction sessions were I felt structured to gather information but not at the expense of the person reporting. There was a considered compassionate approach that reflected the quality of the commissioners as well as the effectiveness of the interaction process. In my opinion the interaction process allowed information to be gathered at a pace acceptable to the informant, with respect and compassion for the trauma of the informant and with a recognition that the person reporting had particular needs, was experiencing trauma and needed the opportunity to express what was the centre of the abuse for them. The interaction session while information gathering allowed the informant to set the agenda.  

The follow up in my opinion was of great importance, the documents produced, the legal outcomes achieved were all of great benefit. However, the individual follow up to informants was significant because it communicated that what you presented was important, it was acknowledgement of the pain informants had lived with for long periods and it recognised that such trauma should not have been inflicted on children.  

What did the Royal Commission mean to informants 

It meant vindication. It meant that all my feelings of being different, of being reclusive, of feeling wounded and of little value were acknowledged. It allowed a light to be shone on the damage caused and allowed informants to recognise they were not responsible for what happened to them. It was the opportunity to recognise that powerless children were not responsible for the trauma they endured over life spans.  

It meant that a significant, high profile judicial team connected to the highest levels of the Australian Government recognised their trauma. Such recognition was like a suit of armour to attack the fears the informants carry with them. This allowed informants to step forward in safety and be able to tell their stories free from ridicule, harassment, ostracism and intimidation.  

Impacts on Australian society 

During and after the Royal Commission there was considerable interest in child protection and providing services to survivors. I feel this interest has declined; this may be the effect of time and the emergence of other significant issues that affect parts of the community.  

There have been long term consequences for the nation. All states appear to have refined and developed their child protection laws and it is assumed instances of child abuse have declined.  

I don’t share the view of a declining child abuse pattern because of the inequities that continue to grow in our nation. The most powerless in such an inequitable society are children. I hold the opinion that the Royal Commission was an event that changed our nation in powerful ways. However, it is only part of the need for change. The Royal Commission may have improved situations in Australia but criminal networks may now operate offshore and use the gambling resources of this country to launder money and continue crimes against children in other nations.  

I hold the opinion that the Royal Commission started significant work on addressing the effects and implication of childhood abuse. However, it is a start and more needs to be done. It needs to be addressed in an equitable society, it needs to be addressed in controlling gambling and money laundering. It needs to be addressed in immigration and how we welcome, house and assimilate vulnerable people into our communities. It is a community responsibility; such responsibility is reflected in who we elect to govern us, how we as citizens see others and how we as a community fit together to improve outcomes for all the community, not some identified sectors.  

My comments are not about the effectiveness of the RC [Royal Commission], an outcome I feel was monumental for Australia. My comments are about the nation we want and how we see children being developed within that nation. Children are the future and they will take to that future their perceptions of what is happening to them now.  

Changes for survivors 

It is not a stigma to admit I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. I don’t see this as a crippling issue that I can’t talk about.  

The significant change for me is that nothing is secret. I feel I can speak honestly about my experiences and that I am not a second rate person because of those experiences. I can acknowledge what happened to me and I can feel esteem that I am surviving. I can feel proud that I am making my way forward. Perhaps the most important change for me is that I don’t have to live in secret; I can be who I am without needing to explain, compromise or minimise.   

The Royal Commission was a catalyst to promote these changes. 

Priority areas for further change 

Addressing growing inequity within our nation.  

Providing opportunities for all Australians to experience trauma-informed support that is not contingent on economic constraints but is seen as being vital to promoting healthy communities. This issue is clearly reflected in the need for mental health services after Covid. 

Empowering local communities to develop their own strategies to manage community health. Such local services know and build upon community resources. They become intertwined with communities and become first stop shops for community members who seek assistance. 

Developing effective legislation that targets use of gambling for money laundering. Such criminal activities exploit vulnerable people across the world and our nation needs to continue to hold up the beacon the Royal Commission ignited.  

Developing education opportunities for communities to understand the impact of child abuse, the influence of attachment and addiction on the lives of children and strategies to help communities nurture the vulnerable. 

knowmore thanks Lindsay for sharing his reflections on the Royal Commission and his thoughts on what changes are still needed for survivors. We also thank the Survivors & Mates Support Network (SAMSN) for its contributions to our work to acknowledge the Royal Commission’s 5th anniversary.