The family trap: how the Royal Commission is missing many abuse cases

Sarah Dingle on Radio National speaking about the family.

It's the institution in which the vast majority of child sexual abuse occurs but the victims won’t be able to tell their stories at the current Royal Commission. Children who are sexually abused by family members suffer the ultimate betrayal of trust, with nowhere else to go and no-one else to turn to. 


Criminologist and psychologist Professor Stephen Smallbone says the family home is by far the most common location for children to be sexually abused. Interfamilial adult offenders are overwhelmingly males, with the peak age of offending the 30s and 40s.
The offenders are usually in some sort of authority role—like a father, a boyfriend, or a grandfather.

I think we should not overlook siblings and other (often older) children. I believe they constitute a significant percentage.

‘It's not only that more sexual abuse occurs in homes than organisations but it's also true that kids who are abused in homes tend to be more harmed than kids who are abused in other settings,’ Professor Smallbone says.

Freda Briggs:

... the decision to exclude interfamilial abuse from the Royal Commission is short-sighted.
‘... the institutions in which they were abused—they were often boys homes, children’s homes—they closed down long ago.’
‘We should be looking at what's happening here and now. So I can see if the Royal Commission can't tackle the current setup I fear that there'll be another Royal Commission in ten years' time.’

Fear?  Weird, but I can only hope given there is no way the government was prepared to tackle that one now. Still 10 years is a lifetime for a child.

I suspect there are two major reasons why the Royal Commission's Terms of Reference where narrowed down to institutional abuse only.  

One. Institutional abuse by itself is so broad that many doubt that it can be concluded in a reasonable time-frame anyway. It was an pragmatic attempt to keep it achievable. It was the narrowest net to cast that was politically acceptable. They had to go after the churches but they could not single them out which is fair enough. The catholic church gets justifiable bad press but they don't have a monopoly on appalling immoral behavior.

Two. The government is directly responsible for many child care institutions and is legally as well as morally accountable. As this plays out I think they are going to 'pay' in one form or another.

While the above two reasons are solid enough I also suspect that Julia Gillard did not want to hold up a mirror for us to take a good hard look into. The major problem with confronting child sexual abuse is that the evil is too close to home and we are not yet ready to acknowledge that. We like to blame external factors which is why the myth of stranger danger is so palatable and popular. Institutions are external to us as well and hence something the electorate is happy enough to shine a light on. Shining a light on the family is probably politically one step too far. Will we be ready in ten years? Certainly after the Royal Commission has run it's course I think we will be closer and that can't be bad.