15 December 2017

Response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The staff of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, today acknowledges the grace and courage of the thousands of people who recounted their experiences of childhood sexual abuse to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and thank the commissioners for their compassion and commitment to ensuring a safer future for young people.

Executive director of Orygen Professor Patrick McGorry said it was vital to remember that, although the commission focused on historic acts of child sexual abuse within institutions, many young people have, and continue to, experience sexual abuse within and outside of institutional settings. “The recommendations of the Royal Commission will go a long way to reducing the extent of child sexual abuse in institutions, but we must not forget that although the abuse might end, the trauma that it creates has long-lasting and often devastating consequences,” he said.

“As identified in the Royal Commission’s final report, mental health problems are the most common consequence of child sexual abuse. Such a traumatic experience can lead to a wide range of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, personality disorders, psychosis, self-harm and suicidality.”

The head of Orygen’s trauma research program, Dr Sarah Bendall, said the mental health presentations stemming from trauma were complex. “We know that people don’t readily disclose trauma, and can often take decades to do so,” Dr Bendall said. “The effects of exposure to traumatic events at a young age can continue to impact a person’s life well into adulthood, increasing the risk of disability, further victimisation, criminal behaviour, homelessness and unemployment. It is therefore critical that mental health interventions are available as early as possible.”

The Royal Commission found that current Australian service systems do not have the capacity to meet the needs of child sexual abuse victims and survivors, particularly when the impacts of their trauma are multiple and complex. It recommended steps be taken to ensure service systems:

  • are equipped to respond effectively to complex trauma;
  • understand the ways child sexual abuse can affect individuals and influence their service needs; and
  • are underpinned by principles of trauma-informed practice.

Orygen supports this position and recommends that to deliver effective responses to trauma within youth mental health services there is a need to:

  • Increase the number of clinicians and psychological service providers who are skilled in trauma assessment and treatment for young people;
  • Improve awareness of trauma and its impact on youth mental health among young people, their families and youth mental health service providers;
  • Improve our understanding of, and capacity to, provide trauma-informed youth mental health services through increased research, training and support.

For further information contact Penny Fannin, Director, Communications, on +61 417 125 700, penny.fannin@orygen.org.au.