Words can fail us when we hear and read about the sexual abuse of children in their homes, their schools and in other institutions. We’re shocked by the extent of it, disgusted by the predatory betrayal of trust involved, and angry when adults fail to respond properly when confronted by it.
Anyone would recoil at the revelations coming from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, from other inquiries, from the media, and from victims themselves.
We’re likely to ask ourselves: How did this happen? Why did these horrendous crimes often go unreported and unpunished? And what do we do to prevent them happening again?
While the Royal Commission is likely to provide answers to some of these questions, it should be obvious everyone entrusted with the care of children has an essential responsibility.
At Independent Schools Victoria (ISV), we actively support Member Schools in their efforts to prevent abuse and to respond to it properly if it occurs.
This longstanding support predates the harrowing accounts of abuse, revealed at the Royal Commission and elsewhere.
We are committed to preventing this appalling crime.
We know the lasting damage it can cause. We commend victims who have the courage to report it, and we support schools to ensure that they create safe places for the children in their care.
ISV staff inform schools of their obligations under our extensive Compliance Framework.
We give schools expert information on their legal obligations to prevent and report any sexual offence against a child. This includes their obligation to refer to police any report of a potential criminal offence against a child.
Our Member Schools are expected to have detailed procedures and guidelines for reporting incidents or concerns about student wellbeing.
As well as offering our own resources and information, we encourage teachers to access detailed material provided by government agencies, including the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s online learning modules on protecting children and mandatory reporting.
We support the Victorian Government’s development of new child safety standards for all schools in the state.
Individual Member Schools run as part of their curriculum a wide range of courses and programs that, while not necessarily directly focussed on sexual abuse, develop students’ resilience, self-confidence and understanding of proper relationships.
These programs help students identify risk, know the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in respectful relationships, and gain the confidence to speak out when they are confronted by unacceptable behaviour.
It is clear from the revelations at judicial and parliamentary inquiries and from court cases that this abuse has occurred in a range of settings – in family homes, in government and non-government institutions, in schools, religious organisations, youth and sporting groups, and in the entertainment industry.
It’s also clear that in the past not enough was done to prevent these crimes. The damage has often been compounded by the failure of individuals and organisations to properly respond and support victims when they sought to report the abuse.
Schools, of course, have particular responsibilities. But the extent of this crime across society also means that there needs to be a society-wide response so that everyone puts the care of children first.