Australia’s child sex abuse Royal Commission on Friday handed over its final report to the government in a move that increases pressure on lawmakers, religious groups and civic institutions to immediately adopt more than 400 recommendations.
For the past five years, the commission has put civic and state institutions like churches, the defense force, sporting clubs and after-school care under the microscope, examining their responses to allegations of sex abuse in their ranks.
The commission’s investigation has exposed a national tragedy of systemic abuse by shining a light on persistent failings of institutions to keep children safe, of cultures of secrecy and cover-up, and the devastating effects child sexual abuse can have on a life.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had the power to look at any private, public or non-government body involved with children.
It was contacted by more than 15,000 people. More than 8,000 victims told their stories, many for the first time in private sessions.
The commission also received more than 1,300 written accounts and held 57 public hearings across the nation. Allegations were raised against more than 4,000 institutions.
Religious ministers and school teachers were the most commonly reported perpetrators, the report said. The greatest number were in Catholic institutions.
The inquiry embroiled Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric George Pell, now the Vatican’s finance chief, who was questioned over his dealings with paedophile priests in Victoria state in the 1970s.
Pell is currently accused of multiple historical sexual offences, with a committal hearing in March due to decide if there is enough evidence from the prosecution for the case against him to go to trial
In October the federal government tabled a bill for a national redress scheme that would cap payments to survivors at $150,000 each in Australian dollars (about $115,000 U.S.) in compensation.
It’s now up to all states and territories to sign on to the plan, which is meant to take effect in July.
The commission recommended that the government also set up a national framework and an office for child safety. It also recommended that priests and other religious leaders be compelled by law to report child sex abuse to police, even if heard in the confessional.