By Nicky Davis victim and leader of SNAP Australia (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).
When the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse sat for the first time recently, there were smiles among those who had long campaigned for justice for Australia’s forgotten children.
But for the survivors it was not a day for smiling. We did smile, briefly, when the royal commission was announced. Pure joy as truth won an unwinnable battle against evil and corruption. But we haven’t won the war yet. Not by a long way.
We have dark days ahead, unlike those who struggled with us to get us here. Their job is done and they can leave the task of exposing the truth in the hands of the professionals. And on the shoulders of the survivors.
We must peel away our protective coping strategies and speak the words we have been ordered never to say. Try to find voices that have shrivelled to a croak after a lifetime of being silenced. Risk being overwhelmed by emotions we have buried all our lives. And pick ourselves up again after we open this Pandora’s box of undeserved guilt, shame, worthlessness and betrayal.
Already, as we feared, the process, the legal issues, and the lawyers – so important to achieve the sweeping law reform Australia so desperately needs – are sucking up all the funding, and all the focus.
This process must be survivor-centred, not lawyer-centred. The commission exists because of the horrendous crimes committed against Australia’s children, and because these crimes are allowed to go unpunished, and so flourish. And because our so-called justice system imposes life, or even death, sentences on little children, but allows the real criminals to keep their precious reputations, to keep the respect of their communities, and to keep offending unhindered for decades, even lifetimes.
Statistics from Victoria, analysed by Judy Courtin, a lawyer and researcher, show only 0.06 per cent of child sexual abuse results in a conviction – even less once appeals are taken into account. This means that more than 90 per cent of these crimes leave a child rapist free to reoffend, and a survivor denied justice. Closer to 100 per cent leave the survivor feeling betrayed, neglected or re-abused by the system supposed to protect us.
The only reason most survivors even engage with our predator-friendly and horribly abusive criminal justice system is to ensure that at least this rapist can be kept from targeting more children. The strength and courage this demands from fragile survivors is enormous, superhuman even – and is one reason why so few are able to do it.
Now, we are being asked to draw on all our strength and all our courage, and then some, to confront the terrifying experiences forced on us as children; to relate facts that many adults find too hard to face.
And we are expected to do it without proper support, while tens of millions are being spent on premises, on staff and on computer systems. And, of course, on lawyers.
Don’t get me wrong, we asked for this commission. Or rather, where so many turn their backs on the suffering of abused children, this is the best way available for us to tell the truth, find some justice and finally be able to heal. But we do not want the price to be more suffering by the most innocent, most neglected, and most deserving. Nor do we want any more tragic, unnecessary deaths.
The government needs to immediately announce a comprehensive system of counselling and other support services to help us through this challenging time. We should never have been abandoned to suffer alone and unassisted all these years. We should not be asked to tell our hard, sad truth alone and unassisted.
We should not have conditions and limits to our access to life-saving services. We should not be exposed to untrained suppliers, who don’t know about dealing with complex trauma, or to those with a connection to the institutions that abused us.
By all means charge the cost of our support back to the wealthy institutions that cunningly evade their responsibilities. We should not be expected to suffer for years more, waiting while lawyers and others get rich off our suffering.
Our suffering is silent, but not because we don’t want to speak. We desperately tried to be heard but nobody listened, and nobody cared. And those most silenced are the ones most in need of help; those in remote communities, in jail, battling addictions, or on the streets.
We all deserve the feeling of weight being lifted as we are listened to, heard and believed for the first time in our lives. We all deserve to hope, to no longer be one of the walking dead, and to learn how to live. We all deserve a chance to become the economically contributing, functional members of society we were never allowed to be.
And we all deserve the support to make all this possible. Starting now. Anything less is another betrayal, another win for the privileged criminals.