Crucifying the children

So, Australia is to have a Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced the initiative without any advance warning to her government or consultation with her Ministers.

Like the good idea at the time it most assuredly was, Gillard has now had a cold shower and passed the parcel to her Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, who has been tasked with establishing terms of reference for the inquiry. Given there is no policy paper underpinning the initiative and that the entire nation was taken by surprise at its announcement, great attention is focussed on just what matters will actually be subject to scrutiny.

To start the process, Roxon has released a consultation paper to allow interested parties one week to air their initial views. Spare a thought for the poor bureaucrats who had to massage this hot potato without burning their credibility or careers.

Much like a firehose, this four-page document is designed to dampen expectations as it sprays parameters everywhere in the hope of shoring-up the government’s already crispy-fried credibility.

Sadly, at the first hurdle the government has baulked at what must be the most contentious – but most vital – test of credibility. It has ruled out any examination of child abuse within families.

However unpalatable this matter may be, it is that part of the iceberg that remains underwater.

Child abuse has been revealed over recent decades to be sickeningly widespread among religious organisations and state institutions. It would stretch credibility to farcical limits to suggest these organisations were somehow completely at variance with wider society in their approach to the molestation of children.

It is undeniable that sexual abuse happens within families – and the victims are all too frequently young, innocent and vulnerable.

This is the ultimate scourge and few dare speak its name. Any reasonable person would have a dread as to what a thorough, professional and competent inquiry into family sexual abuse would likely reveal.

But, without that, what lasting reform can society hope to achieve? Without the knowledge to establish the bedrock of damage to children, efforts to contain child sexual abuse will remain reactive and ineffective.

Unless this is changed we have already failed our most vulnerable, and ourselves. We delude each other that all is fine because we dread having the reality confirmed. Those who are complicit by silence in protecting the perpetrators cannot absolve themselves of guilt.