In April 2012, the Victorian Government initiated a landmark inquiry into the handling of child abuse allegations within religious and other non-government organisations.
The inquiry’s final report, Betrayal of Trust(External link) was tabled in Parliament on 13 November 2013 and contained 15 recommendations. The Victorian Government tabled its response on 8 May 2014 giving support or in-principle support to all of the recommendations. Work to implement the Victorian Government’s response is nearing completion. This work falls into three categories:
- criminal law reform
- creating child safe organisations
- civil law reform.
Since 2013, the Victorian Government has been engaging with the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (External link). The Royal Commission has now concluded.
During the course of its proceedings, the Royal Commission heard more than 8000 personal stories from survivors in private sessions; received an additional 1000 written accounts from survivors; held over 57 public hearings; conducted 35 policy roundtables; published 59 research reports and 45 case study reports; reviewed allegations of sexual abuse in more than 4000 institutions and made 2575 referrals to authorities, including police.
The Royal Commission concluded on 14 December 2017, and the Commonwealth Government tabled the Final Report on 15 December.
The Royal Commission previously published three interim reports: Working with Children Checks (2015); Redress and Civil Litigation (2015); and Criminal Justice (2017).
The Victorian Government is considering the Final Report and will deliver a response by June 2018.
Criminal law reform
Since the publication of Betrayal of Trust, the first priority of the Victorian Government has been the immediate safety of children. The Victorian Government has introduced three new criminal offences to further protect children from abuse.
The three new offences are:
- a grooming offence which targets communication, including online communication, with a child or their parents with the intent of committing child sexual abuse
- a failure to disclose offence that requires adults to report to police a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed against a child (unless they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so)
- a failure to protect offence that applies to people within organisations who knew of a risk of child sexual abuse by someone in the organisation and had the authority to reduce or remove the risk, but negligently failed to do so.
All allegations of child abuse are investigated by the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCITs)(External link)at Victoria Police, who are specialist detectives trained to investigate the complex crimes of sexual assault and child abuse. Victoria Police has also established a dedicated taskforce, the Sano Taskforce(External link) to investigate historic and new allegations of child sexual abuse that have emanated from the inquiry.
Creating child safe organisations
The Victorian Government is implementing a range of measures to create child safe organisations. These measures will strengthen the capacity of organisations to prevent and respond to the risks of child abuse.
The Victorian Government has introduced new child safe standards that aim to drive cultural change in organisations, so that protecting children from the risks of abuse is embedded in everyday thinking and practice. The standards are compulsory for all organisations that provide services to children.
The Victorian Government has also developed a reportable conduct scheme that will require organisations with a high level of responsibility for children to respond to allegations of child-related misconduct made against their workers and volunteers, and report those allegations to the Commission for Children and Young People.
For more information about the child safe standards or the reportable conduct scheme, see the:
- Overview of child safe standards and reportable conduct scheme
- Department of Health and Human Services website(External link)
- Commission for Children and Young People website(External Link)
The Victorian Government has also introduced measures that ensure all Victorian schools are required to implement the child safe standards and adopt consistent policies for responding to allegations of abuse.
The Victorian Government has enhanced its Working with Children Check(external link) scheme so that all ministers of religion are required to get a Working with Children Check, unless their contact with children is only occasional and incidental to their work as a minister.
Civil law reform
The Victorian Government is continuing to implement a range of civil law reforms to provide better access to justice for victims of institutional child abuse.
On 1 July 2017, the Wrongs Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2017 came into effect. The Act creates a new duty of care that will allow an organisation to be held liable in negligence for organisational child abuse, unless the organisation proves that it took reasonable precautions to prevent the abuse. A fact sheet with further information is available.
The Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015 passed the Victorian Parliament in 2015, and became operative on 1 July 2015. The Act completely removed the limitation periods that apply to civil actions founded upon child abuse, with both retrospective and prospective effect. The reforms also removed the 12-year long-stop limitation period for wrongful death actions in relation to child abuse brought by dependants of a deceased victim.
On 9 March 2018, the Victorian Government announced its in principle agreement, alongside the NSW Government, to join the National Redress Scheme.
Redress provided under the scheme will consist of three elements: a redress payment of up to $150,000, access to counselling and psychological services and a direct personal response. Survivors will be able to choose whether to accept one, two or all three of the components of redress.
The amount of the redress payment will depend on the level of sexual abuse and related non-sexual abuse that a survivor suffered and will be an amount up to a maximum of $150,000.
The Victorian Government believes that participating in the National Redress Scheme will provide critical support to those who have suffered past wrongs, including abuse, community silence and institutional corruption that meant survivors weren’t listened to, believed or acknowledged.
The Victorian Government will continue to work with the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions to finalise the design of the scheme, to ensure it meets the needs of all survivors.
Further information on the scheme can be found on the Commonwealth Department of Social Services website(external link).
In response to the Betrayal of Trust report recommendation 26.1, the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Bill 2018 was introduced to the Parliament on 6 March 2018. The Bill responds to the problem identified in finding 26.3 of Betrayal of Trust: that the lack of incorporation by non-government organisations (NGOs) that work with children can make it difficult for survivors of abuse in organisational settings to identify an appropriate defendant to sue for damages.
The Bill provides that where an institutional child abuse plaintiff wishes to pursue damages against an unincorporated NGO that controls one or more associated trusts, that NGO must nominate an entity that is capable of being sued to act as a proper defendant. If the NGO does not do so, the trustees of the associated trust(s) are the proper defendants in the proceedings on behalf of the NGO and will incur any liability which arises from the proceeding.
Work is also continuing on the implementation of other civil law reforms that were recommended by Betrayal of Trust. This includes the incorporation and insurance arrangements of certain organisations.
Common Guiding Principles
The Common Guiding Principles provide guidance on how Victorian government agencies should ordinarily respond to civil claims involving allegations of child sexual abuse.
The Common Guiding Principles are policy guidelines that complement the Model Litigant Guidelines.
Reporting a child in immediate danger:
You may speak to police confidentially even if you do not want to be involved in an investigation. Any information you provide to police may assist them in other investigations and in the prevention of further child abuse.
You can also make a confidential report by calling:
Concerns about the safety of a child or young person who may be at risk of harm:
- Child protection contacts - Department of Human Services (External link)
- Child Protection Crisis Line 13 12 78 (After hours) (External link)
If you've experienced child abuse in the past:
- Victoria Police's Sano Taskforce (External link)
- Victoria Police’s Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (External link)
How to report a crime:
- Sexual Assault Crisis Line
1800 806 292 (External link)
- Victims of Crime Helpline
1800 819 817 (External link)
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (External link)
- Survivors of child sexual abuse, including a guide for parents (External link)
- Better Health Channel (External link)
- Community Health Directory (External link)
- Find more support services on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse website (External link)