Abuse in care inquiry ‘needs to hear from more’ Pasifika survivors – lead counsel

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The number of Pacific survivors and witnesses registered with the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry has increased 14 percent since its Pacific-focused hearing in July this year.

However, the Royal Commission is encouraging more to come forward.

Lead Counsel Assist with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, Tania Sharkey.

Tania Sharkey says it is important to acknowledge the ingrained cultural factors which hold back some Pacific peoples from reporting abuse in care. Photo: Supplied

The fortnight-long hearing, which was the first of its kind, looked at abuse of Pacific people in state and faith-based institutions between 1950 and 1999.

Eighteen Pacific people had registered in the months since then.

But Tania Sharkey, who was the lead counsel assisting the hearing, said the Royal Commission “needs to hear from more”, because Pacific survivors were over-represented in abuse in care, but under-represented in the data.

In total, there were 121 registered Pacific survivors and witnesses, which accounted for less than four percent of all registrations.

Sharkey said there were survivors who had come forward but “will choose not to register”.

“So we are engaged with them and their families in other ways so they can still share their experiences with us.”

How many people were in this group was not mentioned.

Sharkey said it was important to acknowledge “there are ingrained cultural factors which hold back Pacific peoples from reporting abuse in care”, ultimately affecting the number of survivors registered with the Royal Commission.

“The harm suffered by an individual Pacific survivor is not experienced alone, and the effects can flow on to the rest of their family and community.”

Royal Commission into Abuse in Care sitting at Fale o Samoa in Māngere.

Royal Commission into Abuse in Care sitting at Fale o Samoa in Māngere earlier this year. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Sharkey said learning about survivors’ experiences was “vital” to ensure reports and recommendations “are survivor-focused and capture the true extent of the abuse suffered by Pacific peoples”.

She said they were interested in abuse in a range of care settings. This included police custody, religious boarding schools, faith-based schools, psychiatric units, foster care, boys’ and girls’ homes, and abuse by priests, ministers and pastors.

While the hearing in July “was important for the public visibility and public acknowledgment of the experiences of Pacific survivors and their families, as well as expert evidence,” it did not represent “the full scale” of the Pacific investigation, Sharkey said.

The Royal Commission continues to talk with numerous Pacific survivors, their families, and support and institutional groups.

The Pacific investigation team can be contacted by email at [email protected] or call 0800 222 727.

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