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A Measure of Justice for Survivors in Australia

Aug 03, 2007 — Categories: , ,

In Queensland, Australia, the government has formally made restitution to individuals and families who suffered abuse as children in government- and church-sponsored institutions. It only took ten years.

In Queensland, Australia, the government has formally made restitution to individuals and families who suffered abuse as children in government- and church-sponsored institutions. It only took ten years.

I first became aware of the abuse in the 1990s when I traveled to Brisbane to do training with Karyn Walsh and the Esther Centre on sexual abuse in the church. The training focused on the framework of justice-making in response to harm done by religious leaders.

From 1911-1999, children were removed from their families by the government and placed into the institutional care of the state or church. The children typically included indigenous children, children from single parent families, orphans, or children from the British child migrant scheme, and it was determined that they suffered from poverty, abuse and neglect. On some occasions children were placed privately in orphanages, most commonly due to illness or death of the mother.

In 1998-99, The Forde Inquiry concluded that over the years, significant numbers of children in the care of these government- and church-run institutions were subjected to repeated physical, emotional and sexual abuse. An abuse of power, a betrayal of trust, a reluctance of people in authority to acknowledge or deal with the abuse, and an official response which showed more concern for the protection of the institution and the abusers than the safety of children were the common themes in these instances.

In addition to clearly acknowledging the history of abuse and taking steps to prevent future abuse, the most significant, just response after the Forde Inquiry was the establishment of a $100 million Redress fund to provide restitution to survivors. The Esther Centre and people like Karyn Walsh have been leading advocates for this response and have facilitated the Historical Abuse Network in maintaining dialogue with the government and churches, pressing for action to follow the Inquiry.

Although the churches’ overall response to the Forde Inquiry was disappointing, the Esther Centre as a community based organization kept the issue before the public and finally the government responded. Karyn now reports: “We are exhausted but very satisfied with this result. Without the training we received from FaithTrust Institute and our understanding of your work and the justice-making principles, the results would have been very different. So we are glad that our paths crossed when they did. It gave us a sense of direction and we have just kept working within that framework.”

The Esther Centre, the Historical Abuse Network and the leadership of committed government figures, have provided some measure of justice in support of healing to those who were abused as children. Justice is real, concrete and significant; it is never perfect but our hope is that it can be adequate to bring healing where there has been harm and brokenness caused by those who should have provided care.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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