The recent conclusion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse is a very significant moment in the history of Australia, and even the world. It turns out that one of society's greatest fears is a reality for a shocking number of people. It can be extrapolated that over time hundreds of thousands of Australian children have been sexual abused, and often by the exact people and institutions that were tasked with caring for them. It is a nightmare come to life. I congratulate the commission for the dignity with which it handled its mandate, and pay respect without end to people who testified before the commission. And compassion flows to the hundreds of thousands who weren't able to speak, some because they have lost their lives brutally early.
What has accompanied the methodical progress of the Royal Commission is a groundswell of compassion for the victims, which is entirely as it should be. But where are the victims now? We know that many have taken their own lives or otherwise succumbed to drugs and alcohol. Of Phillip Nagle's Primary School class (he's now in his 50s) from St Alpius in Ballarat, 12 are dead. Dead. A public health statistician might describe this as a probable 20+ year reduction in life expectancy (my own maths).
It is logical that our compassion should extend to the survivors, wherever they are today. Some overcame. Some are doing fine. But many are not. Some are occupying the reception area and consulting rooms of First Step where we are busting our guts to help them. How high are society's compassion levels for this 'cohort?' Users, junkies, bums, vagrants, bludgers, pot heads, boozers. You don’t hear these words as much these days, but we are pretty bloody far from a society-wide non-judgemental attitude to substance abuse.
It's not my intention to pen an essay, or a lecture. Let me simply say, to mark the end of the Royal Commission, that we would all do well to understand that long-term addiction is usually the result of unaddressed or unresolved trauma. And that trauma is very often the nightmare that the Royal Commission has been uncovering: childhood sexual abuse that obliterates trust, destroys relationships, harms bodies and souls, destroys self-esteem and can take a life-time to overcome. Just think about that next time you’re inconvenienced by someone playing up on the tram, sleeping on the footpath, hanging out at the park or generally struggling to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Stop for a minute, take a breath, and be the best person you can be.
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Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.