It has been estimated that up to a quarter of a million children, young people and vulnerable adults were abused in state and faith-based care between 1950 and 2019 in New Zealand.
The Royal Commission into Abuse in Care has released the findings.
Of 655,000 in care during the period, it is estimated up to 40 percent were abused.
An equal number, about 254,000 were in either social welfare care or church-based care (31 percent).
There were 102,000 (12 percent) in school care and 212,000 (26 percent) in health and disability care.
The exploitation peaked in the 1970s with up to 48,000 victims in that decade
The study said little was known about the ethnicity of those abused in care.
It quoted an Oranga Tamariki report that showed 81 percent of children abused in care were Māori.
Māori children made up 69 percent of children in care.
There was also limited historical data available on the number and proportion of disabled people in institutional care.
Royal Commission chairperson Coral Shaw was astounded by the number abused and described the economic impact as eye-watering.
Taking into account the impact of physical and mental injuries, criminal behavior, homelessness, lack of education and unemployment the estimated cost over the lifetime of an abuse survivor is $857,000 – or between $96b and $217b in total.
”These are astronomical figures beyond anybody’s imagination, but they are reflected in the pain and suffering we have been hearing about. You can put a dollar figure on it, you cannot put a dollar figure on the pain and suffering.”
She was amazed by the lack of record keeping of the number of children and disabled people in care during the period.
”All of this has lead to the under-estimation of the number of people affected.
”It is only when you see a number on the page like 655,000 in care that it really comes home. The extent of the issues we are looking at here.
”I don’t think any of us knew that number would be as large as it was and I think it is fair to say we were all surprised and astounded by the enormous numbers.”
Shaw said the size of the impacts both on the individuals and New Zealand society was an important message and lesson all New Zealanders had to learn.
The information would help the Royal Commission to estimate the work ahead, she said.
”So we can see how many survivors we are likely to be asked to speak to, how many investigation topics we can do and how wide and large those investigations are.”
Survivor says scale staggering
Survivor Keith Wiffin said the scale of the abuse was staggering and it made him sad – and very angry.
”Like me, I think the country will be truly shocked.
”I am sad, I am angry, I have shed tears reading these reports because this is real people’s lives, but it also strongly indicates as to the scale of what is a monumental tragedy which has had a huge effect not just on the direct victims but the nation as a whole.”
Wiffin, who was abused from age 11 at the Epuni Boys’ Home, told Morning Report the tragedy was avoidable if money and care had been put into helping young people rather than picking up the pieces later.
The authorities need to be open and transparent about what is happening now and what has happened in the past, he said.
To get the scale of abuse that had occurred there had to have been very serious systemic flaws and failures in the system, Wiffin said.
“There needs to be some serious accountability for that.”
He said the figures were mind-boggling especially when considering those figures were for a period when the country’s population was probably three to three and a half million people.
”An amazing percentage of the actual population.”
Minister for Public Service Chris Hipkins said the commission’s interim findings were “harrowing.”
Hipkins told Morning Report the government had set up the commission knowing the findings would detail some horrific stories.
“We have made a commitment we will allow the victims to see that report and to digest that before we make any further public comment on it.”
Hipkins said he would be commenting on Wednesday afternoon.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry claimed in an interim report that many children suffered abuse for years by staff at psychiatric and state care facilities, clergy and foster guardians. Some cases of abuse included rape and electric shock treatment.
“The hurt and anguish that has been caused in New Zealand’s history is inexcusable,” Minister for the Public Service Chris Hipkins said.
The report said that among those most frequently abused were “most disadvantaged or marginalized segments of the community … particularly from Maori whahau [family], Pacific families, children from impoverished backgrounds, disabled people and women and girls.”
Most survivors were aged between 5 and 17 and most were abused over a five- to 10-year period, the report said. It also revealed that up to 256,000 people were abused, or almost 40 percent of the 655,000 people in care during that period. Most abuse, including physical assault and sexual abuse, occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
Survivors cited a “culture of silence and secrecy” and many of them now suffer mental health issues.
The Catholic Church in New Zealand will study the report to understand how to deal with complaints and prevent abuse.
The Archbishop of Wellington Cardinal John Dew said: “We are deeply sorry for the harm caused to so many by the abuse they suffered.”
The Royal Commission was announced in 2018, with PM Jacinda Ardern saying New Zealand needed to confront “a dark chapter” in its history.