SNAP leader meets with Prime Minister
A day after announcing details about the most extensive royal commission in Australian history, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has thanked advocates against child sexual abuse for years of tireless campaigning.
The Prime Minister hosted a morning tea at Kirribilli House on Saturday and comforted some overwhelmed guests who had themselves been affected by abuse.
She said she wanted to show victims the community silence surrounding child sexual abuse was over.
"I know there a lot of people here, as individuals and as representatives of their groups who probably thought they would never see this day," Ms Gillard said.
"I'm really aware that I'm looking out at a group of people who over years, indeed decades, have fought for justice for people who were abused as children. I know that people here have raised their voices time after time after time to say that our nation has to face up to the consequences of what happened, we have to shine a light on it. It's going to be painful, it's going to be hard but we've got to do that so that we can learn for the future."
The Prime Minister's recognition was hugely significant for some people attending the morning tea, who said the function was symbolic for all victims of child abuse.
"It's nothing I ever expected to experience. I'm so used to people refusing to deal with this issue and just turning their backs on it, ignoring it, pretending it never happened and lying about it," said an emotional attendee Nicky Davis, who was sexually abused as a child in NSW and is an advocate for the group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).
"To actually have the most powerful person in the country say 'This is not OK, we're going to look after you guys,'" she said, breaking down with emotion at the significance of the Prime Minister's presence.
"It's symbolic that we've been invited here today. That victims are important enough to be at Kirriibilli House. We are just [the] representatives - every victim has been invited," Ms Davis added.
John Hennessey O.A.M, who met the Prime Minister holding a photo of his mother May, from whom he was taken at birth, only to meet her 65 years later, said the Prime Minister's words had meant a lot to him.
"I think it vindicates everything we've been fighting for," he said. "It's a world first and once again Australia leads on child abuse. I am one of those victims and I've lived it all my life. A lot of people say 'get with it, move on', but they've got no idea."
The Prime Minister said there were going to be more difficult days ahead for survivors of abuse but she hoped by telling their stories they could make a positive impact on the safety of all Australian children in the future.
"Establishing the royal commission is the start of something really big. Really emotional, really hard and a lot of people are going to need a lot of support as we go through that process," Ms Gillard said.
"It's really important that people get the message that we want to hear their story ... after many years of people being shunned and spurned and having doors slammed in their face, to tell those individuals it's your time now to tell your story. I hope that, in of itself, brings some healing ... To get there we're going to need to stick together through what will be, at times, a very hard process," she said.
While the framework of the royal commission has been set up for three years, Ms Gillard told guests "maybe a bit more time will be necessary", making it clear the commission will continue longer than expected, if needed.