Findings of inquiry into Tasmanian Education Department highlights institutional child sex abuse not a thing of the past

An independent inquiry into institutional child sex abuse within Tasmanian state schools has made appalling findings about the Tasmanian Education Department’s handling of child sex abuse complaints. According to the report, its response was to “ignore students, shield abusers, and protect itself from legal, financial and reputational risks”. The inquiry report and recommendations have been released now in the midst of the current, broader Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings. This blog explores these latest developments, and how they highlight the need for institutions to continue to support survivors to make disclosures about historical allegations and rigorously review, assess and improve their processes for disclosures.

What is happening in Tasmania?

Inquiry into Tasmanian Education Department

The inquiry into responses to child sexual abuse in government schools was commissioned in August last year and was conducted by professors Stephen Smallbone and Tim McCormack. Their report made 21 recommendations, including the urgent implementation of a complete record of all sexual abuse concerns and complaints, training for student teachers, and new measures for safeguarding students. The Tasmanian Government has accepted and will implement all recommendations. The inquiry uncovered decades of evidence suggesting that up until the late 1990s, the Department’s responses to allegations “routinely involved deflecting or ignoring concerns and complaints, often by disbelieving or blaming students, and by shielding alleged or known sexual abusers.” Teachers and principals were often confused and unsure as to if and when they should contact police in relation to complaints. Disturbingly the report found that to this day, the Department is unable to state if there has been a diminution of complaints and concerns raised in relation to child sex abuse within Tasmanian schools, due to an absence of basic record-keeping procedures and processes in this respect.

Commission of Inquiry

The Commission of Inquiry has been ongoing since October, and is focused on four areas: public schools, hospitals, youth detention and out of home care. Public hearings will be held early in 2022. It is across institutions in these areas that there have been a significant number of egregious allegations both of abuse, and of significant cover-ups. As we noted in our recent blog on allegations relating to John Wright and Swimming Australia, these events are a depressing but important reminder of the need – in 2021 – for institutions to have appropriate processes and procedures in place to deal with disclosures and escalate them to the authorities – and for survivors to clearly understand the other options available to them to obtain justice.

Child sex abuse is a scourge that has affected a range of institutions

The findings of the inquiry into the Tasmanian Education Department, and the broad-based nature of the Commission of Inquiry, reflect that historical or institutional abuse is not limited to one institution or organisation. It is well-documented that child sex abuse has occurred in

  • religious and faith-based organisations
  • youth services and facilities
  • Commonwealth and state government services, including child protection and children in foster care, detention and remand centres, and girls’ and boys’ homes
  • schools, including public, private, religious run schools and early childhood education and care
  • sporting and recreational clubs and associations, and
  • organisations such as scouts, cadets and local councils.

Know your rights

Do you need advice about an institutional child sex abuse matter? Let Littles help. We provide expert advice in a sensitive and confidential environment. Get in touch on 1800 548 853.

Following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, survivors now have options they never had before. We are specialist abuse lawyers and can help you receive acknowledgement, meaningful apology and financial resolution from those institutions and systems of power that failed to protect you from harm. Options for survivors include common law claims for compensation against the institution, a redress application under the National Redress Scheme and various other redress schemes for specific institutions. In some cases, even previous settlements of claims can be set aside and renegotiated.

Want to know more?

Your wellbeing

Your wellbeing is our priority. It is vital you seek medical or psychological assistance during your journey towards seeking justice as the legal process may be emotionally challenging. We can also connect you with helpful support services. If these media reports have raised issues for you, you can contact: 

1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732 

Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114 

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

Don’t delay – seek advice now

Speaking out against institutional abuse takes great courage and may seem an impossible task. Get in touch with Littles for a free claims assessment. We know that every survivor and their journey to finding justice is different. Littles will navigate this journey with you. This may include obtaining financial compensation from the responsible institution for the wrong done to you.

Free advice and no upfront fees

Not only do we offer a FREE claims assessment – we handle most abuse law claims on a no win, no fee basis. Our Head of Abuse Claims, Kate Ross, is an expert in institutional child sex abuse claims. If you think you might have a claim, reach out to Kate and her team of specialists for high quality legal advice. They are approachable, sensitive and can provide you with absolute confidentiality.

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