This is a shout out to lawyers, in particular those working for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse as it carries out its long and weary work. There have been few enough heroes in the stories the Commission has heard, and Case Study 34 in Brisbane last week was no exception.
Students at Brisbane Grammar School and St Paul’s, an Anglican school at Bald Hills, were subjected to years of sexual abuse in the remembered past. The Commission’s primary role isn’t to give support to these children, now grown, who were subjected to abuse, in this case by a personal counsellor in whom they placed their trust and a music teacher who continues to deny culpability despite conviction in the courts. The Commission's role is to look at how the rest of us enabled it to happen.
I went to my son’s first awards ceremony recently where two students from each class give a quick summary of their year. The students were funny and bright and interesting as students are. I had the Commission swirling around my head, and as I watched the students, from Year 7 to Year 12, as well as those who walked across the stage to collect an honour, I knew that none of them, not one, despite their parents' confidence that they'd be the ones who'd know better, not one of them would have a chance of outsmarting the cunning determination that those two child molesters used to fulfil their dark desires.
It takes a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to fail children so miserably. And this is the real story the Commission is uncovering, the weakness of our institutions even in recent times in facing up to their responsibilities, the way so many adults put themselves and their own needs before those of children. All of us, every teacher, lawyer, insurance broker, school and church administrator and parent, should read the statements of the courageous men who came forward, their attempts to be heard by the grownups who were supposed to protect them at the time and their lifelong batttle to be heard and cared for in the way they should have been heard and cared for when they were children.
When you go to the Commission’s website, the first thing you see is phone numbers where you can get support. They put those who’ve been abused front and centre of their work, modelling what the rest of us should have done and should do. They are providing the kind of care children have a right to, the kind of care our institutions failed to provide.
The lawyers from the Commission, my word, they are super-heroes. As I watched Counsel Assisting David Lloyd and Commissioner Justice Jennifer Coate, I saw they were bringing light, finally, to end a long darkness. What the Royal Commission is showing us as they lift up the rocks under which so many slimy creatures continue to dwell – offenders and those who enable them – is that light will always take darkness away. Godspeed to them.