Australia's historic hearing into child sexual abuse begins

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Among the opening revelations in the historic Sydney hearing of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse on Monday, is the systematic failure of child protection, with the commission already providing a damning insight into Australia's institutional response.

The first hearings have focused on the predatory scout leader, Steven Larkins, who was first investigated by Australian police for child sexual abuse more than 13 years before he was eventually jailed. However one of his victims told the commission that police incorrectly warned the victim of the unlikelihood of prosecution.

Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is examining how organizations processed allegations of abuse from predators such as Larkins who was head of an institution for children for almost 20 years after the Scouts had been warned about him in the mid-1990's.

The long-awaited commission has only materialized after a damning open letter in November last year from a leading detective, promoting Australian state Premier Barry O'Farrell to launch a Special Commission of Inquiry into the child abuse allegedly rife within the Australian Catholic Church.

In a packed first session Monday, counsel assisting Gail Furness, SC, said that as well as looking into the case of Larkins, who was jailed last year for a range of offenses including aggravated assault, the hearings would examine the case of convicted child abuser and former YMCA childcare worker Jonathan Lord.

Olivia Monaghan from the University of Melbourne said that while the commission and its wide ranging scope for inquiry is to be welcomed, there are holes within the fabric that victims will fall through.

"The high rate of suicide amongst victims of child sex assault needs to also be recognized, and the experiences of their families should not be forgotten. They too deserve support." She said.

One of the challenges facing the inquiry will be the sheer scope and breadth of victims coming forward, with reports that the commission has had up to 5,000 points of contact from Australians claiming to have suffered child sexual abuse during extended contact with Australian institutions including hallowed exemplars of society from the Catholic and Anglican churches, to the Scout movement and beyond.

Olivia Monaghan has lobbied for the addition of an wholly independent investigative body, empowered to act outside the scope of the commission.

She said"A nation-wide, coordinated approach to investigations and research is integral to the success of this Royal Commission."

"With the number of victims so high, however, the key will be to balance efficiency and effectiveness. This can be achieved through the use of an independent investigative body, as well as strongly regulated state co-operation, and thorough supporting legislation."

The legacy of institutional child abuse first made headlines in 2012 after allegations of a cover up within the priesthood of the Catholic Church in the Hunter region outside Sydney, came to light through an explosive public letter appeared to shame officials into action.

"These matters have been raised by a senior serving officer, and deserve to be fully investigated," the New South Wales premier Barry O'Farrell, told journalists.

The inquiry was sparked by allegations of cover-ups and church interference in police investigations, which were highlighted in the open letter by then Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox.

Fox wrote"I have investigated so many sexual assaults in my 35 years of policing I've lost count.

"Having spent most of those years at the coal-face I have seen the worst society can dredge up, particularly the evil of peadophilia within the Catholic Church," He continued.

Inspector Fox wrote that victims of child abuse in the Catholic Church are "coming forward in ever-increasing numbers but they need our support".

Fast-forward almost one year and only now are Australians bracing themselves for what are certain to be painful and disturbing revelations.

Revelations that are to put a very human face to the toll of institutionalized child abuse over a long period.

On just its first day the commission heard that in July 1998, one year after one of Steven Larkins' victims first alerted police, Senior Constable Pamela Amloh, falsely reported that prosecutors had advised the case was unlikely to proceed.

The mother of this victim was given this false information soon after.

This information was eventually passed on to the victim, but by then it was too late.

He had indicated he was no longer willing to go ahead after delay.

Larkins was never pursued for the alleged abuse and even went on to work for the scouts showering, writing love notes and continuing abuse of children - before moving into an organization for Aboriginal children in the Hunter region.

He was finally arrested in 2011 and jailed in 2012.

At the time of the initial whistle-blowing, Detective Fox wrote of his frustration and disgust with institutional responses to child abuse.

Justice Peter McClellan, leading the commission, has indicated that he expects many Australians will be shocked at the extent of the abuse.

Fox is now leading community calls for action. "Removing the support that harbors these criminals is like cutting the head from the beast. It tears down the veil of secrecy behind which these vile animals operate with the self-assurance of immunity," He said. Endi

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