Robert van Krieken

Research, writing, translation

Robert van Krieken - Research, writing, translation

Submission to Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 25 Nov 2012

1. I am grateful to the Royal Commission’s Secretariat for this opportunity to provide commentary on the establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. My background is in the history and sociology of childhood generally but also child welfare in Australia, and I have researched the legal and administrative contexts of the removal of Indigenous children from their families, in relation to the structures and policies of Australian child welfare agencies more broadly. I have also spent some time in Ireland where I became familiar with the various enquiries that have taken place there, and I believe there are some useful lessons that can be learnt from the Irish experience.

2. My main comment relates to the concern identified in the Consultation Paper to ‘identify what public and private organisations and institutions should do to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring’, as well as ‘what should be done by organisations and institutions when allegations are raised’, and possibly to examine ‘the need for changes to any laws, policies or practices within institutions, organisations and government agencies to better prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The aim, then, is to identify what needs to be done to prevent child sexual abuse, what procedures ought to be in place when allegations are raised, and what policy, legal, administrative or structural reforms might be required.

3. The concern is that in order to achieve this aim, it is important to understand how and why child sexual abuse occurred in public and private institutions in the past, and what has been problematic about the institutional practices and procedures up to the present time.

4. It is clear from the experience so far In Australia but also in the course of the detailed Irish inquiries that what is at issue is as much a failure of organisational culture and institutional design, and it would be unfortunate in the extreme if the terms of reference excluded an examination of that aspect of the institutional abuse of children.

5. In my view, then, it is very important for the Royal Commission to include in its terms of reference an examination of the ways in which:
(a) the systems of management, administration, supervision, inspection and regulation of those institutions, and
(b) the manner in which responsible persons executed their functions
contributed both to the occurrence of the abuse and any deficiencies in the response to the abuse.

6. A clear view of how child sexual abuse is to be prevented and responded to adequately in the future will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve without a well-founded understanding of exactly what it was about the management and organisation of public and private institutions responsible for the welfare of children that made it possible for so many to have suffered such traumatic childhoods.

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  • John Murray says:

    Good points, and a very welcome change from the central premise that informed your 1992 book Children and the State: Social Control and the Formation of Australian Child Welfare .

    I especially support points 5 and 6 above.

    What must be inquired into by the Commission is the fact that many of these agencies received vast sums of public monies to run child welfare and child protection programs.

    Not only did they run these programs, they also had repressentatives on Ministerial Advisory Committees, Legislation Review Committees, and have enjoyed massive power in shaping, often secretively, public and civil responses to pressing social Issues and hindered a great deal of necessary social reform.

    This in turn placed them in a cosy relationship with various State organs, which allowed both the prosecution of their own agendas, and the crushing of other peoples hoped for social reforms.

    How long for example did certain religious organisations keep children uneducated in the area of human sexuality, all the while protecting peadophiles for exposure and proper criminal proceedings?

    Surely this control over educational policy led to a great many children being unable to protect themselves from being raped by people who used their religious and social authority as both a weapon of attack, and a shield against exposure?

    We need to question the appropriateness of many of these organisations continued role in the delivery and shaping of government and social welfare services.

    Many of these agencies have now apologised to the Stolen Generations, the Child Migrants, the Forgotten Australians and the victims of Forced Adoptions ( which should be termed ” Institutionalised Kidnapping”).

    The Commission must also ensure that said agencies do not use this inquiry to promote and widen their own spheres of influence.

    In this regard the Commission must inform itself of the long history of these very agencies fighting against Commonwealth involvement in child welfare legislation and service provision, and be aware that this was done to ensure that child welfare and protection regimes in this country did not come under the scope of international treaties, protocols and instruments.

    How many more individuals and groups need to be abused before we question the appropriateness of such agencies involvement in the delivery of such important social services, and the ensuring access to tax breaks, charitable status, public monies, and legislative control?

    I look forward to hearing more from you in relation to the progress of the Commission of Inquiry, and hope that you will maintain a public presence throughout its proceedings.

    John Murray

    10 December, 2012 at 13:31

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