8 critical reasons to give evidence at the Royal Commission into child abuse

giving evidence royal commission

Image Courtesy of the Federal Government

Deciding whether or not to give evidence at the Royal Commission can be daunting. Of course, you want justice. You want to seek the truth. You want to bury your demons once and for all.

But, at the same time, you are worried. Will the benefits of giving evidence make up for the harrowing emotional experience. Is it worth delving into the darkness of your past?

It’s so hard to know.

To make things a little easier to weigh up in your mind, we’ve pulled together 8 of the most important factors that inspire Australians affected by this tragedy to stand up for justice and give evidence to the Royal Commission against Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.


#1. You can find out what really happened

For many abuse victims, The Royal Commission provides the first opportunity to force real answers out of witnesses from the church or state. With a solicitor by your side, the media thirsty for justice and a fully resourced, professional commission team, you finally have a chance to see your abuser’s organisation explain themselves.

You can make sure the people in power are properly questioned.

You can unearth the truth, even when it has been covered up for a long time.
You can have you best shot at justice.


#2. Force the church to listen and respond to you

Some people give evidence to highlight how they were treated by the church when they first disclosed the abuse.

They are very upset they weren’t taken seriously. Sometimes abuse victims were even accused of lying.

The Royal Commission gives you the opportunity to see the bishop or professional standards director for the church publicly embarrassed.

Your solicitor can help you make sure the church is genuinely exposed for what happened.

Those in power need to show their contrition in public.

For too long, they did what they wanted because they thought no-one was watching.

Now the country has them under the harshest of spotlights.

By giving evidence, you can help put your abusers down on their knees.

For too many, the trauma of that abuse has been compounded by the sense that they had, that their nation doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about what they’ve suffered. To those survivors of child sex abuse, today we are able to say we want your voice to be heard, even if you’ve felt for all of your life that no one’s listened to you, that no one has taken you seriously, that no one has really cared.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard announcing the Royal Commission’s terms of reference


#3. Understand the real reasons why you were refused compensation

Some people who were abused struggle to understand why they have been denied compensation in the past. Many victims decide to give evidence to put pressure on the institutions that oversaw the abuse. You and your solicitor can help draw out why nothing was done to compensate you.

Your solicitor can draw out the necessary information required to get to the truth and begin the fight to receive the level of compensation you deserve.


#4. Your evidence can help put your abusers in prison

Many people who work up the courage to give evidence would die in peace if their evidence at the Royal Commission led to their abuser being imprisoned.

They want their abusers hunted down, charged and put in jail.

If a criminal act has occurred, the Royal Commission will refer the matter to the relevant state police force for investigation.

Giving evidence at the Commission may help to ensure justice is achieved.

This may be the justice you have been waiting for.


#5. You can make the truth public

Often victims spend a lifetime living in fear, thinking that their story will not be believed. Sometimes they’ve never told anyone what they’ve been through.

While telling their story can be traumatic, it often brings long-term relief to tell it in a safe environment to powerful people who are in a position to make a difference.

Although his experience occurred 50 years ago, until he decided to talk to the Royal Commission, Frank had not been able to tell any of his family what had happened to him. He disclosed to his children only two weeks before coming to the Commission. He was only able to tell his wife of his childhood experiences the night before he came to talk with us.

Justice Peter McClellan AM Chair, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse


#6. You can receive an apology

This is one of the most common reasons that inspires victims to give evidence. A simple, genuine apology is often the most important thing to help people overcome their pain.

Some want the apology in writing.

Others want to hear it first hand, from someone senior in the church.

Either way, they want a heartfelt apology that acknowledges the enormity of the abuse they suffered and how poorly it was dealt with.

If you want an apology – a genuine, sincere apology – giving evidence could be the most important undertaking of your life.


#7. Protect the next generation from the atrocities you endured

Most people give evidence because they don’t want other children to experience what they went through.

The Royal Commission could be your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to the important process of making sure institutions do not make the same mistakes again.

You can help to make sure that what happened to you doesn’t happen to your children, your grandchildren and their children.


#8. Help with your grieving and healing

Experts agree that coming forward to talk about abuse experienced as a child can be one of the best ways to help you healing.

Typically, telling your story in a supportive environment helps to set victims free of a dark shadow that has sat over them – and often their family – for far too many years.

Many abuse victims have stopped praying to God. They are stuck in a place where they believe nothing good ever happens to them. If something good happens, they fear something bad will happen to even the score.

Living without hope is a very dark place to be. Giving evidence gives hope, helping achieve a breakthrough that vanished demons from the past out. People who have been intruding into your thoughts for decades can be silenced and removed from your head. Once hope starts rising in their hearts, they start to have faith that better things will come.

The Commissioners’ hope is that, through our work, a process of healing will be initiated for many survivors and permanent change made to the way institutions are managed and respond to sexual abuse of children.

Justice Peter McClellan AM Chair, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse


If you’re deciding whether or not to give evidence, make sure you consider each of these reasons when you weigh up your choice. Either way, it’s not going to be easy. There’s no simple answer.

If you do decide you want to give evidence – now is the time.

Have a read through our guide to find out what it’s like to be a witness at the Royal Commission.

This will help you understand what to expect as you take the next step. If you’re ready and you want to move forward with your evidence, make sure you tell us your story and we’ll help you start on your journey for justice.

About Peter Kelso

I am a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. I have been admitted to practice since 1984. I am the principal and founder of Kelso Lawyers which has operated in Newcastle since 1986.

I have been an advocate for compensation for victims of abuse since the commencement of the Victims Compensation Tribunal in New South Wales in 1988. I conduct the largest victims practice in New South Wales. I have a high level of engagement with numerous NGOs such as woman’s refuges, sexual assault services, community organisations and healing centres.

On 31 October 2012 I was a finalist for the Justice Medal, presented by the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales.

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