FOUR years ago the suicide of Belmont North child sexual abuse victim John Pirona was the catalyst for a royal commission.
On Tuesday the first of back-to-back Hunter public hearings into the Anglican and Catholic churches starts - the 42nd and 43rd hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It has held more than 5500 private sessions with survivors, taken more than 31,000 calls and received more than 18,000 letters and emails. It has referred more than 1600 matters to authorities including the police, leading to prosecutions and investigations across Australia.
The royal commission has funded 24 research projects relating to institutional child sexual abuse in Australia, including how juries assess information during trials, the response of specialist police investigation units to child sexual abuse, the use of evidence during child sex trials, sentencing issues, mandatory reporting laws and specialist prosecution units and courts.
The royal commission has recommended a national redress scheme for abuse survivors that is estimated to cost more than $4 billion, with institutions contributing the bulk of the money.
In speeches royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan has revealed significant issues in how the judicial system deals with child sexual abuse. In a speech in 2015 he declared that the history of sexual assault trials was “replete with statements by judges which reveal ignorance” of what science knows about sexual abuse and its impact on children.
The role of the royal commission was “to expose what has happened in the past and to make recommendations aimed at ensuring, so far as possible, that children are not sexually abused in an institutional context in the future”, Justice McClellan said.
Royal commission public hearings have examined Scouts, the YMCA, Swimming Australia, children’s homes run by the Salvation Army, Catholic and Anglican churches, a yoga ashram, private schools including Knox, Brisbane and Geelong Grammar, Hillsong church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish churches, disability service providers, out-of-home care services and the response of Catholic and Anglican dioceses to child sexual abuse allegations.
Law and child protection Professor Patrick Parkinson said the royal commission has been “exceptionally successful in exposing the extent of the problem of child sexual abuse across a great range of institutions, gathering hard-to-obtain information, commissioning ground-breaking research and promoting cultural change”.