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Restorative justice for child sexual abuse victims

  • 17 November 2014

On Monday 27 October, the Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, gave a talk at the Blue Knot Day for adults surviving child abuse. In his speech he used a well-worn phrase most adults will have heard, 'children should be see but not heard.'

The Commissioner went on to point out that this attitude has prevailed for decades and has been a critical contributor to the conditions under which abusers could manipulate and silence children in order to abuse them.

The Commissioner also highlighted current efforts by most institutions, to modify their practices in order that future abuse can be recognised early and brought to the attention of those charged with the protection of children. 

In fact, ask most office holders charged with the responsibility of child protection and they will readily outline efforts and safeguards to prevent future incidences of abuse. 

It is interesting that the language of protection is now front and centre when it comes to the care and protection of children. This is admirable and in the culture of what has transpired, it is an achievement creating some quiet satisfaction. But could this sense of pride be masking something deeper and more troubling? 

Might total focus on stringent practice and policy design be creating a hole where all that is heard is the drone to ‘moved on’? I listen and still hear whispering whimpers. There is something missing from the current lexicon. Where are the stories of people gathering to help mend and heal themselves and the victims of this horrific episode in our history? 

I was brought to these questions after reading an account of how a family engaged with one of their own, who is the victim of severe sexual abuse. In this case, four siblings and their families gathered with their younger brother in what is called a restorative conference – conducted by Real Justice Australia – in order to come to a deeper understanding of how each of them had been affected by an incident that had occurred over thirty years ago. 

What struck me about this account were the following paragraphs:

As he spoke, I did not hear the voice of a forty five year old man, I heard the cadences and soprano of the prepubescent boy who had experienced an unimaginable assault that had left him totally bewildered, isolated, confused and condemned to an unheralded life of spiralling pain.