Ahead of Australia’s own Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse prepares to get underway, Dateline travels to Ireland to look at how the country handled a ten year inquiry into child sex abuse there.
But Ireland’s experience has left many victims of abuse feeling ignored and let down.
“I was told I would be healed, I’m not healed. I was told open the scars and open up, I did that, and the scars are festering away because I’d been promised so much, and then just left there,” John Kelley, who spent time in a state-funded and Roman Catholic-run children’s institution, tells journalist Evan Williams.
Kelley and other critics of the commission, claim it failed to bring peace to many victims because there
was no accountability and consequence for the abusers.
Across Ireland, 180,000 children were sent to institutions for being orphaned, committing minor crimes, missing school or for being poor. Many were abused, and most kept their trauma a secret until the inquiry was called. However, the ten year long commission has been criticised for not identifying perpetrators, and because the evidence of abuse obtained could not be used to pursue criminal convictions. In addition, because the inquiry was overwhelmed by the number of people that came forward, they decided to only take a sample of cases from each institution, leaving many victims feeling ignored.
“The reality is that a very large number of people committed really appalling crimes against children in this State and have not been prosecuted for them, and will not be prosecuted for them,” Colm O’Gorman, the director of Amnesty International in Ireland who was abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, and has campaigned on the issue of sexual violence for almost two decades, tells Dateline.
“There is every danger that the process will become mired in legal conflict and a volume of files and paper appear that people can’t imagine. My great worry is that it will be so broad that it will run into sand, and I’d have that concern if it was only looking into the church in Australia, never mind the issue of child abuse in Australia more broadly, in any scenario, in any setting,” O’Gorman adds.
Dateline hears some of the very personal and distressing stories of abuse in Catholic institutions, and talks to people involved in the commission about the complicated legal issues hanging over the whole process. Reflecting on the Irish experience, Dateline considers the lessons that Australia must consider if a commission here is to give Australian victims any peace.
9:30pm Tuesday on SBS ONE.