Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders survivors of institutional child sexual abuse are reminded that they must register with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by 30 September 2016 if they wish to have a private session.
Private sessions allow survivors of child sexual abuse in an institution to share their story directly with a Commissioner in a private setting.
The Hon. Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission, said the strong demand from survivors to share their story has resulted in a queue of people waiting to meet with a Commissioner.
“The rate at which people come to the Commission seeking a private session shows no present sign of diminishing. It has averaged 37 per week over the past 12 months,” Justice McClellan said.
“If the present demand for private sessions continues throughout the life of the Commission, unless we close off applications well before we complete our final report, many people who may seek a private session will be disappointed.”
“In our view it would be intolerable for a survivor to be accepted for a private session only to find we could not meet with them,” he said.
The first private session was held on Tuesday 7 May 2013 in Parramatta, NSW, and in April, the Royal Commission completed its 5,000th private session in Queensland. There are more than 1,500 people currently waiting for a private session.
So far, 561 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had a private session, and 293 are waiting for one.
“The Commissioners recognise that for individuals who have been traumatised by sexual abuse giving an account of their experiences and telling their story to a Commissioner is, for many survivors, an important part of their personal journey,” Justice McClellan said.
Justice McClellan said when it comes to institutionalisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a unique history.
“From the late 19th century to the early 1970s, around 50,000 children of the Stolen Generations were sent to institutions or adopted by non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander families where the primary aim was to remove them from contact with their families, communities and ways of life, and assimilate them into white society,” he said.
“The 1997 Bringing Them Home report documented evidence of children’s experiences in institutions where many were sexually assaulted in an institution or foster family placement.
“Their forced removal led to psychological and emotional damage which has been inherited by today’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. As a result, many remain highly vulnerable to child sexual abuse.”
Justice McClellan said the information which the Commission has obtained from survivors, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors, has proved to be critical in informing its investigations.
“It will provide a secure foundation for many of our final recommendations,” he said.
The closing date applies only to new applications for a private session.
People who have already been accepted for a private session or who apply before 30 September will have an opportunity to meet with a Commissioner. The Royal Commission will still accept written accounts after 30 September.
“There can be no exceptions for any application received after that date. I know this will mean that some people will be disappointed. For that the Commissioners are sorry,” Justice McClellan said.
Private sessions are unique to this Royal Commission. The Commonwealth Parliament amended the Royal Commissions Act 1902 so that Commissioners could hear from survivors in private and ‘bear witness’ to their stories of abuse
Private sessions are held in all capital cities and have also been held in regional areas including Cairns, Coolangatta, Hervey Bay, Rockhampton, Townsville, Woorabinda, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Ballina, Penrith, Launceston, Kimberley, Bunbury, Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Warrnambool.
Private sessions also have been held for inmates in 26 correctional centres in NSW, ACT and Victoria.
The Royal Commission has Aboriginal staff and Aboriginal counsellors who can assist survivors with their private session.
The Royal Commission is aware of the special cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and as such has tailored its information and the way it does things to meet these needs.
In 2014, the Royal Commission brought together 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors to participate in a mix of private sessions and group forums, supported by traditional cultural healing practices.
As at 29 April, 2016, 561 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had a private session.