Royal relief for Wooragee abuse campaigner

CHRISTINE Stewart breathed a sigh of relief when she heard of the royal commission.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 26 years,” the co-founder of the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect said at her Wooragee home yesterday.

“I welcome it because there are many people in high places who don’t want things to change for a variety of reasons.”

Ms Stewart, who was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to children, said she had called for an “urgent national inquiry” in 1986 when she wrote a reform policy for the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women.

“It came about when I met some sexually abused schoolgirls when I put on a self-esteem building workshop during international youth year in 1985,” she said.

“The girls’ school was not prepared to help the girls as their fathers (who were the abusers) were prominent businessmen.

“At the time I was vice-president of the Sydney Club of Business and Professional Women.

“The impact that encounter had on me was substantial.

“I spent the next five years and most evenings, weekends setting up victim support groups, helping parents through the court system and taking on the Family Court over access matters.

“Not once had access been denied to a parent who had sexually abused a child — mothers were in hiding breaking the law by denying access.”

Ms Stewart said that in the late 1980s it was made mandatory for teachers, healthcare workers, doctors and others to report cases of child abuse.

“I was upset because the only ‘profession’ that was exempt were priests,” she said.

“As history has shown the Church has been a very powerful influence behind these decisions.”

Ms Stewart said the royal commission would cross state boundaries.

“Too many paedophiles have moved interstate and escaped conviction,” she said.

“We need national uniform laws for starters.”

She said she was well aware that one in four girls who reached the age of 18 had been sexually abused, often within the family group.

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