Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a national apology to victims of child sex abuse in an emotional address to parliament on Monday, acknowledging the state failed to stop “evil dark crimes” committed over decades.
The official apology came after a five-year Royal Commission detailed more than 15,000 survivors’ harrowing child sex abuse claims involving thousands of state institutions.
“This was done by Australians to Australians, enemies in our midst,” Morrison said in a nationally televised address.
“As a nation, we failed them, we forsook them, and that will always be our shame,” he said, his voice cracking as he recounted abuse that permeated religious and other organisations.
Decrying abuse that happened “day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade” in schools, churches, youth groups, scout groups, orphanages, sports clubs and family homes, Morrison declared a new national credo in the face of allegations: “We believe you.”
“Today, we say sorry to the children we failed. Sorry. To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces. Sorry. To the whistle-blowers who we did not listen to. Sorry.
“To the spouses, partners, wives, husbands, children, who have dealt with the consequences of the abuse, cover-ups and obstruction. Sorry. To generations past and present. Sorry.”
In parliament, legislators stood for a moment of silence following the remarks as hundreds of survivors looked on or watched in official events across the country.
Relatives of victims who have died wore the tags with the names of daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, for whom this apology comes too late.
A series of institutions have already apologised for their failings, including Australian Catholic leaders who have lamented the church’s “shameful” history of child abuse and cover-ups.
The formal apology comes almost a year after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse uncovered the shocking extent of abuse of children by clergy, orphanage supervisors, and others in positions of power.
According to the Royal Commission, seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia were accused of abuse between 1950 and 2010, but the allegations were never investigated, with children ignored and even punished.
Some senior members of the church in Australia have been prosecuted and found guilty of covering up abuse.
Morrison said he would establish a national museum to raise awareness of the impacts of child sexual abuse.