And on the day...National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
With thanks to the survivors and their family members for their voices
What are your thoughts, your feelings, about the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse?
More often than not, there was a pause and then just the one, considered word. Rarely followed by anything further.
In the week preceding the apology, to be delivered by the Prime Minister on 22 October at the Federal Parliament, I asked this question of almost two dozen survivors and a number of their family members from across Australia.
There were those who felt it offered little.
‘As a victim of child sexual abuse from within a private institution, the National Apology holds no meaning for me whatsoever, particularly in the context that I don’t believe the institution that was in fact responsible for my abuse is actually sorry.’
Many survivors seemed to have little awareness of the upcoming event, even two or three days prior.
‘No, no I didn’t know there was an apology. Who is making it?’
‘I just heard about it today on a friend’s Facebook post.’
I wondered what they would say afterwards.
I was personally honoured to have had a seat within the Gallery of the House of Representatives allocated to me from which to watch the apology.
As I was shown to my seat some time before the Session was scheduled to begin, I noticed the stranger by my side had already broken into uncontrollable tears.
I took her arm and tried to offer what solace I could; it was an action that hundreds would repeat across the course of the day.
‘I seriously doubted any apology could adequately articulate the empathy and understanding required for those affected…I knew I’d potentially be unable to control my tears, and as much as I tried to hold them back, they came forth in droves…’
For myself, I can only describe the words delivered by both the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, the gravity and enormity with which they delivered their thoughts as heartfelt and heartbreaking.
‘They are few times, and lately fewer still, that our politics rises above the immediate and the petty.
Today is one of those days.
A very fine speech by Prime Minister Morrison; an equally fine one by Labor leader Bill Shorten. Speeches of empathy, of deep understanding, of insight. Speeches of honesty and humility and prostrate, abject apology.
Our parliament is a place, can be a place, should be a place, of national leadership. A place where the best of us is at work.
Today is one of those days.
It is a difficult thing to look hard at ourselves as a nation; to be brutally honest in assessing what is wrong, what has been done wrong, and what we must do to make it better. Inescapable self-reflection is horribly painful…
If our country can be as brave as its victims and survivors, we will get this right…
And we must be as brave as our victims and survivors, every day…’
‘The prime minister saying sorry validates the feelings of hurt and pain felt by so many…the validation itself is a soothing balm on a burning wound.’
Julia Gillard was honoured with a seat on the floor of Parliament during the reading of the Apology and welcomed to the stage within the Great Hall before the survivors during the ceremony that followed. It was evident through the course of the day that she above all, was the Champion of the people.
Celebrated and honoured for her initiative to create the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which had listened to so much of the agony, bared so much of the ugliness, shed so much light on the abuse. At it’s heart, it was the Commission that was responsible for the events of this day.
‘The crux of the findings [of the Royal Commission] is not that child abuse was occurring by sexual predators, but that Government after Government, Institution after Institution, Community Leader after Community Leader, Community after Community, allowed the Predators to flourish decade after decade, knowingly and by the deliberate action to ignore…
We can no longer plead ignorance of the effects of child abuse, and/or ignorance that our institutions and Community leaders always act in our best interest.
It is now up to us to ensure that we support leaders which clearly demonstrate the protection of children as a priority, and as a Community as we no longer accept that abuse within our family environment should go unabated…
We can no longer choose to ignore.'’
As the day progressed, regardless of where we met in Canberra, the Gallery, the Great Hall or on the lawn, we spoke to each other and supported each other knowing the pain and torment that all had endured among their communities, their families and friends and this, our country.
I arrived home late last night shaken and attempting to absorb the events of the day. Reflecting on the generosity of many new friendships, along with the horror of their experiences and their efforts to contribute to a better future.
While many of my friends have called me today and shared thoughts that it must have been a sad day for me - for others presumptions are that the apology would have made me happy. In truth, I am overwhelmed. There is much to process, as there must be for my community and Australia.
The reality is that following decades of suffering, while for some this Apology is insufficient, the final words must belong to the survivors.
‘Whilst listening to the Apology, it resonated in my heart and to my pain. I felt those without a voice were being heard and acknowledged and that maybe they weren’t so alone anymore…
Today was a step forward for the people of Australia…
The future shines a little brighter today, even through my tears.’