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Protecting the abused from further trauma during the Royal Commission

There is great support within the community for the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. Many people have high hopes it will right the wrongs of the past and help us, as a nation, to eliminate future…

People who were abused as children are more likely to suffer mental health and substance abuse disorders. Dawn Ashley

There is great support within the community for the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. Many people have high hopes it will right the wrongs of the past and help us, as a nation, to eliminate future child sexual abuse.

But how will the Royal Commission affect those who were abused?

Research from Australia and around the world has told us a great deal about the impact of child sexual abuse. We know, for example, that people who have been sexually abused as children are 2.4 times more likely than others to suffer from a mental disorder in adulthood and have a higher risk of addiction.

In adolescence, those who have been sexually abused are more likely to become involved in risk-taking behaviour, and are therefore more likely to be re-victimised in early adulthood and experience difficulties in their intimate relationships.

We also know that disclosure is a lifelong process. This is because children often feel ashamed of what has happened to them, blame themselves, or are fearful they will be punished if they speak out, or they won’t be believed. If the sexual abuse involves same-sex acts, the child or adolescent can feel a great deal of shame and confusion over their own sexuality.

These are powerful reasons why a child or young person does not want to talk about the abuse. So most children choose to remain silent for many years. As adults, they often realise that if they do speak out, there will be negative consequences for themselves and their families. Many choose to remain silent in order to protect family members from the reality of what has happened to them.

It may be slightly easier for children or young people to speak out, and demand justice, if the abuse took place outside the family or within an institution. But it’s important to remember that it requires remarkable courage to make any disclosure, given the stigma that attaches to victimhood.

Some people, especially men, don’t want their identities defined by their childhood experiences. Daily Grind Photography

In order for the Royal Commission to live up to society’s expectations, it’s important the rights of those giving evidence are protected. Survivors of child sexual abuse must be treated with respect and their stories must be honoured, even if the person telling the story is not considered an “ideal witness”. Adult survivors should not need to prove they are of good character; they have suffered enough.

It’s important people giving evidence are not shamed or questioned about their sexuality. The majority of paedophiles are heterosexual, not homosexual as is widely assumed. Paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder that involves sexual attraction to a child or adolescent and child sexual abuse is a crime – none of this has anything to do with the sexuality of the child involved.

My own research demonstrates that some people, especially men, don’t want their identities to be defined by their childhood experiences. They don’t see themselves as victims, or even as survivors, preferring to view themselves as more than their abusive pasts. As such, they may be reluctant to come forward to give evidence to the Royal Commission. But if do, they won’t want to be patronised or be portrayed in any way as “damaged goods”.

Most people who testify will want to tell their stories and seek justice. They will expect the police to lay charges against perpetrators and those who have broken the law by protecting criminals. Provided this occurs in a timely manner, they should find the experience worthwhile and, to a certain extent, healing.

Of course, there are legitimate concerns the process will re-traumatise people, and this is certainly possible if the situation is handled poorly. But provided people are not coerced into giving evidence, the experience is more likely to be cathartic than re-traumatising.

Unfortunately, some people listening to the proceedings from their homes around Australia may become traumatised as they realise that what they are experiencing – or have experienced in the past – is wrong. This will include children, in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, who are currently being sexually abused. It will also include adults who have been sexually abused by family members.

All those drawn into the Royal Commission will be embarking on a journey through grief. Hopefully, they come out on the other side having achieved some reforms, some prosecutions, and some healing.

The people who will be failed by the Royal Commission are the children who are too afraid or too ashamed to disclose what is happening to them now, and who unfairly blame themselves.

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  1. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email

    Thanks for this concise consideration of the issues presented by this Royal Commission for people who have been sexually abused as children. As someone who is a member of the club no-one wants to belong to, the CSA survivors club, I welcome the Royal Commission. If the disclosures are cathartic for victims and survivors then the necessary exposure will be doubly so for institutional abusers. That's the point here: to stop the abuse it is necessary for abusers and abusive institutions to be exposed. Let it rip.

  2. Shaira Leah Gomez

    logged in via Facebook

    The effects of sexual abuse extend far beyond childhood. Sexual abuse robs children of their childhood and creates a loss of trust, feelings of guilt and self-abusive behavior. The sexual victimization of children is ethically and morally wrong. I am a mother and I fear for this kind of scenario. We don't know what kind of people we are dealing on a day to day basis, so we have to make sure that our children are properly protected. So I thought of looking up for safety application that would do so, and luckily, I read an article with cool safety application that alerts you when your kids in trouble and can even get escalated to the nearest 911 station with just a click. Check this out:

  3. Dania Ng

    Retired factory worker

    "The majority of paedophiles are heterosexual, not homosexual as is widely assumed". Quite true. However, I have seen some arguments which hold that about a third of the child sexual abuses in the US is committed by homosexual men (there is very little information about this murky aspect of child abuse in Australia). When considering that homosexuals make up about 2% of the population, then the term "majority" takes a new meaning.

    1. In reply to Dania Ng

      Comment removed by moderator.

    2. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Typical ignorance

      "The research to date all points to there being no significant relationship between a homosexual lifestyle and child molestation. There appears to be practically no reportage of sexual molestation of girls by lesbian adults, and the adult male who sexually molests young boys is not likely to be homosexual (Groth & Gary, 1982, p. 147). "

      Dania Ng can't help but let her intolerance and villification of same sex attracted people spill over and confuse homosexuality with pedophilia.

      The issue here is providing a safe environment for those people who have been abused and to support them in a difficult process - not to villify a completely separate group.

    3. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Dania Ng

      @James Walker
      I am against the death penalty. I would support the return to treatment and isolation of individuals who harm other individuals, especially children. Because of the clear evidence which exists that homosexual men are anywhere between 11 and 40 times to engage in sexual child abuse than heterosexuals, I would also mandate the screening of such individuals before allowing them to work with children. After all, you are asked to indicate your 'gender' (including homosexuality) when you…

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    4. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Dania Ng

      @Mark Harrigan. Yes, you are typically ignorant, taking every opportunity to attack me as is your habit, instead of posing an intelligent question or comment. Like I said on the other thread, I would simply invite you to get your facts in order before impatiently diving into your favorite christophobic and heterophobic-driven trolling pastimes. To start with, see the word 'rainbow' in the link you have posted? It means it refers to a homosexual website, this one is maintained by a well-known homosexual…

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  4. Jim Robertson

    logged in via Facebook

    I'm a victim from California. I write to warn victims in Australia watch out for SNAP or it's Australian equivalent. And watch Fr. Tom Doyle. SNAP and Doyle are the Church attempting to control the amount victims get in settlements. This is no joke. They are in fact attempting to be the "Victims's movement" when if you reach out to them you'll meet very few victims to organize with. You will meet instead many Catholic "supporters", who will only help the organization never you. I post my real name. Here's my address in L.A. 4439 San Andreas Ave. L.A. 90065. I only wish I was making this up. Victims in America know there are front groups created by the Church controlling how victims are not seen.

  5. Roger Peters


    It concerns me that even before the terms of reference for the Royal Commission has been set, that discussion is taking place about what the Royal Commission will in fact achieve. If Sally Hunter is right and the expectation for many poeple is that "it will right the wrongs of the past and help us , as a nation to eliminate future child sexual abuse", I am afraid we are in for a massive diasappointment.As Commissioner Ryan modified his stance from eliminating corruption, to hoping the Royal Commission…

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