Jeremy Rockliff at release of abuse inquiry report
Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff has apologised to child sexual abuse survivors. Image by Loic Le Guilly/AAP PHOTOS
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Kids in care sexually abused for decades, inquiry finds

Ethan James September 26, 2023

Tasmania’s government has failed to protect children in its care from sexual abuse, with young people in the state’s detention centre experiencing systemic harm over decades.

The final 3500-page report of a commission of inquiry examining child sexual abuse in state institutions, publicly released on Tuesday, delivered 75 findings and 191 recommendations.

The inquiry, which was called in 2020, investigated the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Launceston General Hospital, public schools and out-of-home care.

It found the state government’s response to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse since 2000 had too often been inadequate.

“Victim-survivors have been abused by the very people who were supposed to care for them,” Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff told state parliament.

“We are deeply sorry to all those who have suffered abuse … we have failed you.”

The report said abuse was often not recognised or not decisively investigated by institutions, sometimes because of ignorance or a desire to protect reputations.

“For decades, some children and young people detained at Ashley Youth Detention Centre experienced systematic harm and abuse,” the report said.

The commission said sexual abuse remained a “live and current” risk at the centre, which was described as having a culture that enabled the humiliation and degradation of children.

The commission repeated its call for the centre to be shut as a matter of urgency.

The government, which previously pledged to shut the centre by the end of 2024, has promised it will be closed as soon as possible as part of broad justice reform.

Since at least the early 2000s, the use of isolation as behaviour management, punishment or cruelty contrary to the law had been a regular and persistent practice at the centre.

” … the conditions that enabled this practice still exist today,” the report said.

The government and departments have been on notice about potentially unlawful isolation practices at Ashley since at least 2013 and had not taken sufficient action, the report found.

Excessive use of force against children was described as the “longstanding” method of some Ashley staff.

The report also outlined multiple failings and bungled investigations into former Launceston General Hospital nurse James Geoffrey Griffin.

Griffin worked on the hospital’s pediatric ward for almost 20 years and took his own life in 2019 after being charged with multiple child sexual abuse offences.

The inquiry was called after allegations against Griffin were aired in a podcast after his death.

The hospital failed to respond appropriately to a disclosure of abuse by Griffin in 2011 or 2012, leaving children exposed to risk for eight years, the report said.

Child Safety Services should have taken further steps to assess Griffin in 2013 when concerns were raised against him.

Tasmania Police failed to act on “highly probative” evidence about Griffin provided by the Australian Federal Police in 2015.

The report said the hospital’s human resource team in 2019 failed to escalate information about the 2011 or 2012 disclosure. 

It found hospital leadership collectively failed to address a toxic culture on the ward where Griffin worked, enabling his offending to continue and preventing his conduct being reported.

Several people who held leadership roles at the hospital have left their positions since the inquiry’s public hearings in 2022.

Recommendations include law changes to the definition of isolation and the banning of fully unclothed searches of children and young people in detention.

The government has previously pledged to adopt all recommendations.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028