This volume provides an analysis of survivors’ experiences of child sexual abuse as told to Commissioners during private sessions, structured around four key themes: experiences of abuse; circumstances at the time of the abuse; experiences of disclosure; and impact on wellbeing. It also describes the private sessions model, including how it was adapted to meet the needs of diverse and vulnerable groups.

The personal, de-identified, summarised accounts of many people who shared their experiences of abuse can be found by visiting the narratives webpage.


When the Royal Commission was appointed, the Australian Government recognised that many people would want to share their history of institutional child sexual abuse, but to do so in a private, protected and supportive environment. As a result, the Australian Parliament amended the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) to create the ‘private session’ process.

Participation in private sessions was voluntary. A person who appeared at a private session was not a witness or considered to be giving evidence.[1] Hearing survivors’ experiences of abuse in private sessions informed The Royal Commission's understanding of the nature and extent of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts, the circumstances in which it can occur and the devastating impact it can have on the lives of those affected. Information provided in private sessions has been used throughout the Final Report in a de-identified manner.

The private sessions model was carefully designed using trauma-informed principles. The Royal Commission wanted to do everything it could to be sensitive to the diverse, far-reaching and ongoing impacts of childhood trauma on survivors. It endeavoured to engage survivors in ways that affirmed their experiences. The private sessions model was designed to be flexible and responsive to the diversity of survivors’ needs and capacities.

This volume describes the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts who came forward and told their stories to Commissioners during a private session. Following an exploration of the experiences of all survivors, this volume also considers the specific experiences of:

  • children and young people under the age of 25 at the time of the private session
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors
  • survivors from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • survivors with disability at the time of the abuse
  • survivors in adult prison at the time of the private session.

Over one in three survivors who attended a private session were adults who described sexual abuse in historical residential institutions. They included forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and members of the Stolen Generations. Although the experiences of many of these survivors are included throughout this volume, the specific experiences of survivors of historical residential institutions are explored in detail in Volume 11, Historical residential institutions.

Over half of survivors in private sessions told Commissioners they were sexually abused in institutions managed by religious organisations. Although the experiences of many of these survivors are also included throughout this volume, the nature of these institutions and the specific experiences of survivors who described abuse in these institutions are examined in detail in Volume 16, Religious institutions.

In contrast to many other volumes, no recommendations were made in Volume 5. The purpose is to give an account of some of the common themes that emerged as survivors shared their experiences of child sexual abuse with Commissioners.

The Royal Commission acknowledges the courage of all the survivors who came forward and shared their experiences with them, and the valuable contribution they have made to their work.

[1] Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth)

Download final_report_-_volume_5_private_sessions.pdf (PDF File6.6MB).


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