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A national law firm that has acted for hundreds of victims of sexual abuse has welcomed the first public hearing today of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Slater and Gordon National Practice Group Leader Barrie Woollacott said the emphasis on providing sensitive and non-confrontational environments for people to tell their stories would provide significant comfort to many who were considering participating.
“This Royal Commission will be a long process with more than 5000 submissions predicted – but it will hopefully also be an important process that leads to lasting change,” Mr Woollacott said.
“It is appalling that any child in the care of an institution has had to live with sexual abuse and no abuser should ever be protected.
“I regularly speak to clients who suffered sexual abuse as children and, overwhelmingly, what they want is to be heard, to have their experiences acknowledged and to know that somebody is taking steps to make sure it never happens again.
"For a lot of people the abuse is a secret they have carried for many, many years and they are reluctant to speak about it publicly, which can be a barrier to seeking justice.
“The ability to allow evidence to be given in private sessions, away from the confrontational environment of a regular court, will be extremely important to many people.
“I am also pleased that the issues around confidentiality agreements have been discussed at this first meeting, which will allay concerns for some who wish to tell their stories.
“I would urge anyone who experienced sexual abuse as a child while in the care of an institution to contact the commission and tell their story.
“This Royal Commission provides a unique opportunity to uncover and examine the cultures and systems that have meant horrific abuse could take place.
“For this commission to be truly effective it will need to look into the long-standing legal protections that are still in place for groups such as the Catholic Church that mean, for example, that a Catholic archbishop can’t be held accountable for the actions of their predecessor.
“The commission will also need to examine issues around the limitations periods that operate in the various states, which can make it difficult for people to seek civil legal recourse.”