Reclaiming childhood rights

A new online film series is celebrating three Australian women who fought for justice, stood up to powerful institutions and were instrumental to the creation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Launched today on the sixth anniversary of the Royal Commission’s Interim Report, the Citizen Activism: Reclaiming Childhood Rights series is a collaboration between La Trobe University and the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD).

It profiles the social change activism of Chrissie Foster, Leonie Sheedy and Joanne McCarthy through three short films, as part of MoAD’s exhibition, Democracy. Are You In?

The project is based on research led by La Trobe Associate Professor Katie Wright who is investigating the role of citizen activism in relation to the Royal Commission and how collective action culminated in an inquiry recognised internationally as best practice.

“In America it was a searing investigation by the Boston Globe that exposed the shocking reality of institutional child abuse. In Australia it was the extraordinary and sustained activism of ordinary people from suburbs and regional communities – people like Chrissie, Leonie and Joanne – that unearthed our own dark history,” Associate Professor Wright said.

  • Chrissie Foster AM is a prominent advocate for people impacted by sexual assault. Her book, Hell on the Way to Heaven, documented the experience of her family following the discovery that two of her daughters had been sexually assaulted by a priest at their local primary school. Chrissie was awarded the 2018 Human Rights Medal for her "enormous contribution" to the Child Abuse Royal Commission.
  • Leonie Sheedy OAM is an advocate and the CEO of Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) — a national, peak membership body that represents, supports, and advocates for people who were raised in Australian and New Zealand Orphanages, Children’s Homes and Foster Care. Working with other care leavers, she led CLAN’s calls for a Royal Commission to investigate the institutional abuse of children.
  • Joanne McCarthy is an acclaimed journalist who led the Newcastle Herald’s “Shine The Light” campaign, calling for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse within churches and other institutions. She wrote more than 1000 articles documenting shocking sexual abuse of children in the Catholic and Anglican churches, the cover-ups and the appalling treatment of survivors. Joanne McCarthy was awarded a Gold Walkley in 2013.

“Too often inquiry recommendations are not fully implemented. We need to keep the public conversation generated by Child Abuse Royal Commission alive and keep this issue on policy agendas. The work of the many people who fought for justice and social change must be honoured and not forgotten,” Associate Professor Wright said.

MoAD Head of Content Michael Evans said the three films are a reminder of how citizen activism can bring about crucial social and political change.

“A healthy democracy relies on the ability of its citizens to speak out about injustice and take action,” Mr Evans said.

“MoAD celebrates the stories and spirit of Australian democracy, and the power of our voice within it. It is entirely appropriate that Democracy. Are You In? includes these powerful stories, as the Royal Commission – one of the largest and most significant public inquiries ever conducted in Australia – was brought about by decades of community activism.”

PHOTO: Jeremy Piper - courtesy of AAP and Royal Commission

Media Contact: Dragana Mrkaja – – 0447 508 171