Child Abuse in Australia: Putting a Royal Mess Right
AFTER mounting public pressure Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister, announced on November 12th a sweeping public inquiry into what she called the “evil” of child sexual abuse. The inquiry will take the form of a royal commission, with wide investigative powers. Like its brief, its duration is open-ended. The hearings may take years, and promise to confront Australians with harrowing evidence.
Earlier this year, the state parliament in Victoria set up an inquiry into child abuse “by religious and other organisations”. The spark for Ms Gillard’s national inquiry was struck on November 8th by Peter Fox, a police detective chief-inspector in the neighbouring state of New South Wales. Mr Fox wrote an open letter to Barry O’Farrell, his state’s premier, and then gave an explosive television interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He accused the Catholic Church of covering up child sexual abuse, particularly in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney, where he works. Mr Fox wrote:
I can testify from my own experience that the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church. None of that stops at the Victorian border.
The culture of cover-up may not be confined to churches. Mr Fox says some in the police force have tried to smear him as mentally unstable since he came out as a whistleblower: “I knew when I decided to speak out that it was a one-way door, and there’s no going back.”