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A new story for child abuse survivors

  • 23 October 2018


The Australian nation is given shape by the stories that we tell ourselves each year.

There are days when we tell stories about the arrival of the European settlers, and days when we tell stories about the horrific treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There are days when we share the many stories of migrants who have settled in Australia, and days when we remember the stories of the generations who were stolen from their families. There are days that celebrate the stories that are born on the sporting field, and days when we remember the stories that ended on the battlefield.

The annual telling and retelling of these stories gives Australians both old and new a sense of place — a reminder of who we are, and who we no longer wish to be.

On Monday, a new set of stories were enshrined in the nation's consciousness — the stories of victims and survivors of institutional sexual abuse. The National Apology has, one hopes, permanently marked 22 October as a day that we will remember their stories, and commit ourselves to making sure our institutions don't fail in the same way again.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten rightly placed the stories of victims, survivors and their families at the centre of this day. Their speeches focused on the accounts that emerged from the Royal Commission, of children's lives destroyed, of institutions such as the Catholic Church who had failed dismally in their response to the children's suffering.

'One survivor told me that when he told a teacher of his abuse, that teacher then became his next abuser,' said Morrison. 'I also met with a mother whose two daughters were abused by a priest the family trusted. Suicide would claim one of her two beautiful girls, and the other lives under the crushing weight of what was done to her.'

His voice breaking, Morrison continued, 'As a father of two daughters, I can't comprehend the magnitude of what she has faced. Not just as a father, but as a prime minister, I am angry too at the calculating destruction of lives ... those who have abused the shield of faith and religion to hide their crimes.'


"The Catholic Church, and its leaders in particular, are the villain of this story, and will remain so for many years."


Religious institutions were rightfully absent from the apology. It was a day to focus on