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“So much more needs to be done”: Charities campaign for child sex abuse survivors

In the wake of the national apology, charities have called for the government to do more for survivors – including stripping institutions of charity tax exemptions

Child sex abuse victims have been given a national apology but are now calling for action as charities campaign to strip institutions of tax exemptions.

“I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament as he read the official apology to survivors and their families. It was met with a mix of sadness, anger and relief – and now they want real change.

Starting with stripping the tax exemptions from institutions that have not yet opted into the national redress scheme. Rick Venero, who was abused at a Marist Brothers school in Sydney, wants this action taken against institutions who protected pedophiles.

“The biggest concern for me now is the continued funding of these institutions that are obstructionist. We’re talking about institutions that have destroyed records. They’re criminal charges,” he said. “Why have there been no charges?”

Care Leavers Australia Network CEO, Leonie Sheedy, said she wants the government to remove the charity tax exemptions from institutions that are still deciding whether to opt in to the national redress scheme for victims, adding she has never recovered herself.

“You can learn to live with it, but it never goes away. It will be with me and all care leavers until the day they put the lid on the coffin,” Sheedy said.

The child abuse royal commission, put forward by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, heard from 17,000 survivors and made 122 recommendations to the government. As well as a National Centre for Excellence to raise awareness and understanding, the Morrison government has committed to reviewing the royal commissions progress for five years.

National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, said it was important to recognise the pain and suffering and that it was in Australia’s best interest to ensure that children are not put in this position again in “organisations that should have been protecting them”.

Cairns woman, Amanda Bowers, wants sanctions for institutions: “Today was the first step, and it sounds like progress is on its way. But this is just the beginning.”

She added that her former religious community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, have not yet signed up and said that institutions should be given a choice: “If they don’t sign up, they get a hefty fine or lose their charity status.”

President of Blue Knot Foundation, Dr Cathy Kezelman, added that the apology was a “welcome start” but that more should be done for survivors.

“Apologies are something but action is urgently needed as well,” Kezelman said. “Many survivors have not only missed out on their childhood but also countless opportunities along life’s journey. Some have lost their battle to suicide.”

She said that an estimated 60,000 victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse are expected to seek redress under the scheme.

“As part of this, some will seek an apology from the institutions in which they were harmed. Changes to the civil litigation and criminal justice systems need to be embedded. The recently established National Office of Child Safety needs to meet its brief. So much more needs to happen other than the apology alone.”

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