Why some sexual abuse survivors will shun Australia’s apology

Paul Auchettl speaking to media in Rome in 2016Image copyright

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Paul Auchettl has campaigned to raise awareness about sexual abuse

On Monday, thousands of child sexual abuse survivors are expected to gather in Australia’s capital to hear a national apology.

The apology, to be given by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, follows a harrowing five-year inquiry which found tens of thousands of children had been abused in schools, churches, orphanages and other institutions.

For many survivors and their families, the apology in Canberra will mark a hard-fought moment of recognition. But for others it will feel hollow.

The BBC has spoken to several survivors who feel conflicted about the occasion.

Show of defiance

“I think apologising is easy – it doesn’t do much,” says Paul Auchettl, 60.

He was 11 when he first was sexually abused by a paedophile priest, who later went to jail. Mr Auchettl’s brother, who was preyed upon by another priest, took his own life a decade ago.

Mr Auchettl plans to use the apology to speak out against the government’s response to the royal commission inquiry.

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Survivor groups have criticised aspects of a compensation scheme

In its final report last December, the inquiry found that major institutions had “seriously failed” children over decades. The government responded by saying that a “national tragedy” had been exposed.

However, Mr Auchettl believes the authorities haven’t done enough since then to address the problem, or to support the families of victims.

He is angry that the government did not accept all the recommendations put forward by the inquiry, or its terms for a compensation scheme.

The inquiry proposed capping payouts at A$200,000 (£110,000; $140,000) per person, but this was lowered by the government to A$150,000. Maximum payouts will be given only to victims who suffered penetrative abuse – a criterion not proposed by the inquiry.

“It’s just so insulting to measure pain along those lines,” says Michael Scull, a survivor of abuse by a Catholic priest in the 1960s.

“I’m just going up there to Canberra to walk out. Someone’s got to be seen to be turning their back on this.”

How will the redress scheme work?

  • About 60,000 victims of institutional child sexual abuse are eligible to receive payments under the federal government-led scheme
  • All states and territories, as well as many churches, charities and other institutions have signed up to offer compensation
  • Survivors can make applications in paper or online until 2028
  • The average payout is estimated to be A$67,000
  • Access to counselling and personal apologies from responsible institutions will also be offered.

Read more about the compensation scheme

Both men say they are aware that their views are divisive. Mr Auchettl says some other survivors had pulled out of his protest, and he had even been told to “shut up and sit down”.

“They see it as the wrong approach and they want to go and be a part of the apology,” he says.

“They see it as a turning point – they’re seeing hope. And I would like to be positive and see hope too, but I’m finding it hard.”

‘I need to hear those words’

Glen Fisher first suffered abuse in a state-run boys’ home when he was seven. He says he still endures many nights where he wakes up screaming.

Mr Fisher says he cried when he found out that he had received state funding to attend the apology with other survivors.

“What the moment – the apology – holds is 30 years of fighting,” he says.

“Validation. Being vindicated for all those times as children when no-one listened, no-one believed us, no-one cared.”

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Media captionAbuse survivor Andrew Collins recounts his story

He agrees that the compensation scheme has flaws, but says criticism should not extend to the apology.

“I’m broken and I need to hear those words: ‘I am sorry we failed you and your siblings,'” he says.

Another childhood abuse survivor, Georgie Burg, says she has felt conflicted about whether to go.

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Georgie Burg, pictured with her husband

Mrs Burg’s abuser was jailed in August.

She says the redress scheme is intimidating, and forces victims to “relive their abuse” because they are required to submit statements. Many only recounted their suffering for the first time at the inquiry, she says.

However, Mrs Burg says she will listen to the apology on Monday “with an open mind”.

“I do think it might be a healing point. It could help me start to move past what happened to me,” she says.

Read the letters from survivors

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