On the Labour Day weekend just gone, I attended the 30th anniversary conference of ANZAP, the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychotherapy.
While there was a strong sense of celebration at our collective achievements, and we were encouraged at the continuing success of the Conversational Model of Psychotherapy, we were also keenly aware that our work to heal suffering and trauma in the community has a long way to go. It is always an honour to sit together with hundreds of creative practitioners whose life work is to heal trauma, and this gathering was no exception.
One of the presenters was the Honorable Justice Peter McClellan, Chair of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
He shared with us that the Royal Commission conducted 7,641 private sessions with survivors. The legislative change that allowed survivors to give evidence in private sessions, and the 57 public hearings conducted so far has given survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) a voice that was previously unheard. Research and suggestions for policy changes by the Commission are completed. 50 reports are completed, and the Commission is hoping that researchers will further build on this work. Justice McClellan highlighted that the Commission learned about victims of child sexual abuse who, having held their lives together for decades could fall apart when an unexpected life event brought up their trauma and they disintegrated.
Justice Peter McClellan also shared that:
“An important development now available in some jurisdictions to assist the court to receive effective evidence from a child is the use of intermediaries. Intermediaries can be used to assist vulnerable witnesses at both the investigative stage, and in preparation for a trial. The intermediary is generally a professional with expertise in the communication difficulties that have been identified with respect to the witness. They conduct an assessment of the communication skills of the witness and recommend to police, and later to the court, the appropriate communication style for that witness.”
The Royal Commission also found that survivors need ongoing care for the rest of their lives. It assessed the current level of training in treatment and care of survivors of CSA as good enough, but far from perfect. Survivors reported some bad experiences with poorly educated therapists, counsellors and other support people.
Justice McClellan spoke against short term treatment of trauma, and stated that the 10 session Medicare Mental Health Care Plan system is outdated. The limitations are not necessarily supportive of CSA survivors, due to their need for long term treatment.
He also warned us that while there have been some achievements and healing as a result of this Royal Commission, we have to be vigilant and not to expect that Institutional abuse will no longer happen. It was also pointed out that most CSA occurs in families, not Institutions. You can read the whole speech, it really is worthwhile and you will get all the information here. Listening to this great man speak reminded me when I heard him few years ago at the start of the Royal Commission’s investigations and hearings. He seemed full of energy then, I had to wonder what effect it had on his life to chair this Commission…
Some practical information:
- If you are a survivor look for a therapist who is trained in treating trauma, PTSD or complex developmental trauma and possibly has specialised skills like EMDR, Brainspotting or Somatic Experiencing.
- Free legal help to navigate the Royal Commission: Knowmore free advice line 1800 605 762.
- Telephone counselling and support line for people affected by the Royal Commission: Sexual Assault Counselling Australia 1800 211 028
- Blue Knot helpline for Adults Surviving Child Abuse: 1300 657 380
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659467
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
- There is an option, for victims that decide not to formally report the assault to police, is to complete the SARO questionnaire. Sexual assault reporting option SARO,
Nicola Ellis and John Ellis of Ellis Legal Lawyers and Advocates also presented their work with survivors. They are wonderful people, and their work really touched me. You can read about the model they have developed here .This wholehearted duo shared with us their finding about how more often than not, survivors are not interested in the money, but instead look for creative ways to feel heard and acknowledged. They provided a good example of this phenomenon: Lina’s project Newcastle area. Nicola and Ellis also shared that they have recently experienced a positive change in how police personnel respond to survivors of CSA when they are reporting.
While it feels like there have been some hopeful movements towards healing for some survivors, there is a long way to go. Protecting our children is a responsibility that we all share!
If you have been affected in anyway by the Royal Commission please refer to the resources above and find support.
You are not alone.
Master of Science in Medicine (Psychotherapy)
Psychotherapist. Supervisor. Group Facilitator.
SE® Practitioner, Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator
PACFA Clinical. EMDRAA, ANZAP