The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

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This workshop brings researchers, advocates and practitioners together to investigate the social and historical significance of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It will explore the role of the social sciences in developing a knowledge base for the work of the Commission, and in understanding the wide-ranging implications of this landmark public inquiry.

The proposed workshop will bring key researchers from across the social sciences investigating the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, together with practitioners and survivor advocates. Its primary aim is to enhance knowledge of the complex functions and effects of the Royal Commission – in raising public awareness, garnering support for redress, assessing social and institutional change and making better futures for children. The workshop will provide an opportunity for knowledge exchange between stakeholder and researcher agendas, focusing on the historical, cultural and social significance of this inquiry and its potential to bring justice to survivors and foster social, policy and legislative change. The workshop will offer opportunities for seeding new collaborations both within and beyond the academy, enrich participants’ research and professional activities, and culminate in an edited volume, published either as a book or a collection of articles in an esteemed international journal.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013-17) is one of the largest and, arguably, one of the most important public inquiries in Australia’s history. It has received bipartisan political support and funding in excess of $500M; there is widespread community endorsement of its value; and its impact is already becoming apparent, notably in facilitating a national conversation about child sexual abuse and in changing institutional cultures and practices.

The social sciences in Australia have a critical role to play in understanding the complexity and significance of this Royal Commission. As it nears the end of the public component of its work early in 2017, it will be timely to reflect on the Commission’s activities and critically assess the social, cultural, legal, historical and policy implications of this major inquiry. The workshop offers a unique opportunity to generate cross-disciplinary perspectives on an aspect of Australian social and institutional life that has, to date, received limited public attention. Perspectives from across the social sciences, as well as those from practitioners and advocates, will provide a rich picture of the manifold ways in which the Royal Commission is challenging established historical narratives about childhood experiences and institutional authority. It will also examine the ways in which the Royal Commission is scrutinizing past and present policies and practices and offering hopes for redressing injustices and creating better futures for children.

The announcement of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in December 2012 marked an historic moment for the Australian nation. Amid growing international attention to the problem of child sexual exploitation, decades of lobbying by survivor groups and increasing recognition of the lifelong and intergenerational damage caused by childhood abuse, the establishment of the Royal Commission reflected a significant challenge to institutional cultures. It has brought into public view the disturbing reality of widespread abuse of children, both historic and contemporary, and its work is challenging the ways in which organizations operate and policy is developed and implemented. This workshop will closely examine these issues. It will also critically analyse the value of public inquiries in bringing about social change and policy and legislative reform in the area of child protection.

The social sciences are critical to the development of a knowledge base for the Royal Commission while also having a vital role to play in understanding both its legislative and policy implications, and its broader social significance. The workshop will closely engage with the research agenda of the Royal Commission and will include participants who have produced commissioned reports. The workshop, and its publication outcome/s, will build on the work of eminent and emerging social scientists, as well as practitioners and advocates, and contribute to conceptual and policy debates in Australia. In addition, it will situate workshop discussions within the context of the global rise of inquiries into historical abuse and, in turn, contribute through workshop outcomes to international debates and policy development in this area.

The exposure of widespread sexual abuse has eroded public trust in institutions. This has multiple impacts, from individual, national and group identity, to constructions of childhood, institutional responsibility, legislative reform, reportage of sexual offences, and restorative justice. To explore the significance of the Royal Commission across key areas of social life, the workshop will be organized around the following themes:

* Childhood, History and Institutional Cultures

* Public Inquiries, Social Policy and Cultural Change

* Authority, Gender, Sexuality and Religion

* Research Agendas in the Field of Institutional Abuse

* Law, Rights, Advocacy and Redress

* Creating Better Futures

Broader framing questions to guide collective discussions include: How are inquiries established and managed; and what are their limitations? How has the Royal Commission engaged the national imagination to examine this largely hidden and entrenched social problem, when previous inquiries have struggled to do so? What are the impacts of the Commission on conceptions of childhood and abuse? What evidence is emerging of policy and legislative change?

Historical analysis is fundamental to understanding institutional cultures and child maltreatment. Histories of institutions, laws and inquiries help illuminate how organizational dynamics and cultures have fostered sexual abuse. Sociological analysis has revealed both the historical importance of inquiries, and their social and cultural functions, throwing light on how the establishment of the Royal Commission became possible, and how it is, in turn, facilitating greater openness about sexual abuse. Critical social policy underscores the political processes associated with what becomes named as a social problem, and how this shapes institutional practices and social attitudes. Law and legal studies, similarly, reveal both the macro structures and processes that govern societies, as well as providing detailed insights into the struggles for justice for survivors of abuse. Criminologists throw light on issues around sexual violence, while social work has generated important insights into both experiences and effects of abuse, and the support systems (or lack thereof) that states provide.

The workshop will bring together a mix of early to mid career researchers and eminent scholars who are undertaking research on the Royal Commission, including a number of ARC and other funded projects (e.g. Drs Wright, Featherstone and McPhillips) or are directly contributing to the Royal Commission’s work through commissioned research (e.g. Profs Swain and Cashmore and Drs Blakemore and Jones). Royal Commission research staff are invited (e.g. Prof Bromfield) and participants also include survivors and advocates (e.g Ms Courtin, Ms Ellis, Mr Gogarty, Mr Golding and Dr Kezelman).

Presentations will include a mix of conceptually, empirically and thematically driven analyses. Full written papers will be circulated prior to the workshop to assist in generating in-depth discussion during the workshop, and timely publication of the edited volume. The workshop will provide an opportunity for scholars from a range of disciplines, together with key advocates engaged in broader public debate, to participate in in-depth and focused discussions. Analysing the Royal Commission in the historical present, in the broader context of related international inquiries, raises important questions about the global focus on childhood abuse, historical injustices and public inquiries.

The publication outcome will therefore not only contribute to Australian knowledge, but also international debate and understandings of issues around child protection, institutional change, legislative reform, and public inquiries as a mechanism for generating policy and institutional change and redressing historical injustices.

For more information, please contact:
Mr Murray Radcliffe
Deputy Director
murray.radcliffe [at] assa.edu.au
+61 .2 62491788

Event Schedule

Supporting Documents

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au

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