A ROYAL Commission to investigate child sexual abuse in Australian institutions has been welcomed as a long overdue initiative to tackle the secret crime.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Commission on Monday, while the specific terms of reference for the inquiry would be completed before the end of the year.
Amid much speculation the inquiry could run for up to a decade, Ms Gillard said it would run for "as long as it takes".
Adults Surviving Child Abuse president, Dr Cathy Kezelman, said the Royal Commission was long overdue.
"We've been calling for an inquiry into child sexual abuse for many years," she said.
"It's especially important this inquiry look at the institutions where these crimes happen, including those institutions accepting such crimes.
"It's a very secret crime and often there are no witnesses - it affects young children profoundly and is often still hurting them as adults."
Dr Kezelman said the stigma associated with sexual abuse and the fear instilled in victims was so strong; she believed the reported levels were much lower than the real figure in the community.
"It is a most pervasive crime, and the Catholic Church especially does have a very poor record when it comes to dealing with these issues from an institutional perspective," she said.
"Basically, they've accepted and moved around perpetrators and most of those have never been brought to justice - and there's 40 suicides in Ballarat that are testament to that."
The only comparable Royal Commission on the issue in a Western nation was conducted in Ireland and took nine years to complete.
Dr Kezelman said the commission should look to report in about two years, even if it was an interim report for immediate action before a fuller report in the future.
She said irrespective of any compensation offered to victims, nothing could compensate for the lifetime affliction childhood sexual abuse causes.
She said what she would like to see was a complete, comprehensive investigation, as well as a far-reaching apology to all victims.
While Dr Kezelman highlighted the Catholic Church, the Pope's top representative in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, said it was time to separate the "fact from fiction".
Cardinal Pell said the church was not interested in denying the extent of wrong-doing within the organisation, but the Church had also been a victim of a media campaign against it.
He said various procedural changes had been made to the church's internal response to claims of sexual abuse since the 1997 Wood Royal Commission.
"I don't think we should be scapegoated - we'll answer to what we've done.
"We're not trying to defend the indefensible; but right across the board, we'll see what we'll see," he said.
"We've been unable to convince public opinion we've been serious about this."
Cardinal Pell broadly welcomed the inquiry, stressing it should not focus singularly on the Catholic Church, but all institutions where child abuse was recognised.
The government will consult with the public, as well as church and community leaders, victims and support groups, likely early next year.
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