In 2013, the Victorian Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee delivered its ‘Betrayal of Trust’ report, following the Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations.
The report found that while the vast majority of children involved in non-government organisations are safe, there has been an inadequate response to criminal abuse of children.
The Committee focussed on systemic issues rather than individual cases in making the report. However it did examine hundreds of cases in doing so. According to the report, victims reported the following impacts from their abuse:
- Feelings of helplessness;
- Lacking the intellectual ability to understand the abuse;
- Feelings of guilt, embarrassment and shame and of needing to hide their ‘secret’;
- A loss of identity – especially for children in out-of-home care;
- Loss of feeling safe and of childhood innocence;
- Subsequent feelings of resentment and of ‘unfinished business’ due to inadequate responses.
The report found there was a need for stronger requirement for organisations to take reasonable steps to protect children. It also recommended criminal and civil law reform, and introduction of ‘grooming’ as a separate offence.
Outcomes of the Inquiry and Report
The Betrayal of Trust report led to some changes and legislative reforms in Victoria. These include:
- The Reportable Conduct Scheme – to provide central oversight of the way organisations respond to allegations of abuse and misconduct.
- ‘Failure to Protect‘ legislation – which makes it an offence for a person of authority in an organisation to fail to act in reducing the risk of sexual abuse of children.
- New mandatory reporting ‘failure to disclose‘ legislation, which stipulates any adult that suspects child abuse must report it to the police.
- Introduction of a ‘grooming’ offence – which makes it illegal to communicate with children or their parents or carers with the intent of committing sexual abuse.
- Creation of a Statutory Duty of Care under the Wrongs Amendment Act – more information on this can be found below.
The Statutory Duty of Care
The Committee found that the existing liability regarding child abuse in organisations was limited and unclear, and there was a need to clarify legal duties in order to minimise the risk of child abuse. It also found that child abuse perpetrators often had easy access to children from their positions within organisations. They were also often afforded plenty of trust – which tended to facilitate the abuse.
The Statutory Duty of Care applies to any organisations involved in the care and supervision of children. This includes churches, faith organisations, sporting groups, schools and many others. It requires relevant organisations to take reasonable care to prevent child abuse. This also means that if abuse does occur, the organisation could be in breach of the duty – unless it can prove it took ‘reasonable precautions’ to prevent it.
In addition, while the onus of proof was previously on the victim, under the new duty part of the onus now shifts to the organisation to show it took reasonable child safety precautions.
Other changes in Victoria
As a result of the Parliamentary Inquiry and the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse, new minimum Child Safe Standards have also been introduced in Victoria, and Working-With-Children Check requirements have been strengthened.
Links for more information
Written by Tess Oliver
Tags: children, legal