From the twitterati to lonely late-night-radio listeners, reaching the vast and diverse number of Australians affected by child sexual abuse is the biggest challenge facing the royal commission in its early stages, according to its chief executive Janette Dines.
She said the commissioners were acutely aware that in hearing victims’ stories they were ”bearing witness on behalf of the nation”.
The biggest obstacle to fulfilling this duty was that such different sections of the community had to be engaged – from those late-night-radio listeners who could not be contacted any other way, to disabled people, remote indigenous communities and young Twitter followers, Ms Dines said.
”We are going to have to hire someone who works 24/7 on social media. I don’t think a lot of royal commission CEOs go on late-night radio or television or hold meet and greet sessions in regional centres with local groups who can amplify the message and plug the gaps.”
Considerable care was being taken to protect the mental health of commissioners, staff and witnesses. She said vicarious trauma was relatively little understood, and had been listed this year for the first time in the manual of psychological disorders.
Counsellors were proactively preparing commissioners and staff, debriefing them after sessions, and organising regular checks from mental health professionals.
Although the commissioners had been expecting to hear horrific stories, nothing could prepare people for the devastated lives of many victims of child sexual abuse, Ms Dines said. Many victims had never disclosed their abuse and came out of the meetings euphoric at being listened to and believed.
So far, the commissioners have held more than 50 informal meetings, which do not count as evidence, in both Sydney and Brisbane. This week, it starts in Adelaide, followed by Perth, and is due to start private meetings in Melbourne towards the end of August. The first public hearings will be held in September.
The commission has identified 24 issues and cases it wants to examine. Its first discussion paper, issued on June 17, was about working with children checks. By the end – whenever that may be, with the commission expected to go well beyond its due date of December 31, 2015 – it will have heard from several thousand witnesses.
Ms Dines said already 5000 potential witnesses had contacted the commission.
”These are parallel processes, we are two commissions in one. The first is giving healing to people and hearing their stories, and the second is inquiring into the systematic issues.”
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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.