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Featuring: Partner, Jeremy Roche

Victim of Childhood Sexual or Physical Abuse? How to Obtain Justice, Acknowledgement and Compensation

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Law Partner, Jeremy Roche, joins Steve Stuttle on Radio 4CRB to discuss abuse claims. This is a complex area of law and an extremely sensitive topic for the many silent sufferers of historical sexual or physical abuse in our community.

Historical abuse claims

Historical sexual or physical abuse claims are a burgeoning area of the compensation world. 

Victims of abuse are coming forward in increasing numbers to obtain acknowledgement, formal apologies, vindication, treatment, and compensation for the sexual or physical abuse they suffered at the hands of perpetrators and institutions many years ago. 

Often the abuse victim can help in creating real change within an institution with respect to the institution’s policies and attitudes towards addressing the ongoing issue of physical and sexual abuse of minors at the institution and in the wider community.

No one is more in need of help than those vulnerable victims who were abused as minors by a person or institution in a position of power. The effects of that kind of abuse can be catastrophic. Those who endured sexual or physical abuse at an early, vulnerable age almost invariably suffer a lifetime of psychological torment, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, social exclusion, familial dysfunction, relationship problems, and often periods of incarceration. Their loss, pain and suffering from the abuse is overwhelming and life-destroying.  Many are unable to ever form meaningful relationships, obtain employment, or function as a regular member of society.

Until the 2013-2017 Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, victims of historical or institutional sex abuse were often refuted, denied, barred by time limitations, or turned away to suffer in silence. Thousands of abuse sufferers were not properly acknowledged, compensated, or even treated fairly. The small, insufficient avenues of compensation previously available (resulting in little to no compensation) were largely shunned as a pointless endeavour. Claims were difficult to prove and often resulted in abuse victims feeling that they were simply not believed. Many claims were simply precluded by legislation in the first place!

Following the Royal Commission, important changes were made to the abuse compensation landscape which opened the door for silent sufferers of child sexual abuse to obtain meaningful redress or compensation.

The National Redress Scheme

Following the Royal Commission, the National Redress Scheme was established to support people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse and acknowledge that many children were sexually abused in Australian institutions. The Redress Scheme was intended to hold institutions accountable for this abuse and help people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse gain access to counselling, compensation and a direct personal response from their abuser or the institution responsible. The scheme started on 1 July 2018 and remains active allowing applications to be made up until 30 June 2027.

The idea behind establishing the National Redress Scheme was that the Royal Commission wanted to be able to provide abuse victims with direct personal responses or acknowledgments about the abuse that they suffered, whilst also providing medical treatment, psychological counselling, and some level of compensation.

Lifting of the (unfair) time limitation on abuse claims

Before the Royal Commission, there was a “three year time limitation” on abuse claims which meant that abuse victims only had 3 years from their 18th birthday (ie. until their 21st birthday) to make an abuse claim or they would be permanently barred from doing so.

This time limitation was intolerably unfair.

Most childhood abuse victims are unable to even acknowledge, let alone discuss, the abuse they endured until well into adulthood (often 3-4 decades later, if at all). The time limitation precluded the majority of abuse victims from being able to bring a claim. When abuse victims were finally able to bring themselves to start discussing their abuse later in life, they found that their entitlement to claim had been extinguished years ago by the time limitation.

After the Royal Commission, the three year time limitation was abolished. 

This means that there is NO time limitation to bring a childhood abuse compensation claim!

Abuse victims can now bring abuse compensation claims no matter how many years or decades ago the abuse occurred.

Meaningful compensation is now also available, finally making these claims accessible and worthwhile. Abuse victims are increasingly coming forward to discuss what happened to them and to obtain redress or compensation. 

Who are abuse claims made against?

Abuse claims can be made against an individual perpetrator of abuse, an institution, or in many cases, both.

Abuse claims are commonly made against individuals such as:

  • The person/s who abused the victim – whether priests, employers, foster parents, members of the public, relatives, school teachers, sporting coaches, or similar.
  • Churches
  • Religious institutions
  • Australian Defence Force (ADF) – Army, Navy, RAAF
  • Primary schools
  • High schools
  • Universities
  • Boys homes, Girls homes
  • Juvenile detention centres
  • Orphanages
  • Foster homes
  • Government Departments
  • Kindergartens, preschools and childcare centres
  • Prisons
  • Detention centres
  • Other institutions

There are many cases where the perpetrator is no longer alive. That is when institutions (or insurance companies) step in and respond with respect to their own failures in protecting childhood abuse victims from a perpetrator.

How do you prove a historical sex abuse claim against a perpetrator or institution?

Abuse victims almost uniformly believe (at the start of their claim) that they will never be able to prove their claim against the perpetrator or institution. This is because they have spent a lifetime being told that no one will ever believe them, or that the abuse did not happen. Their truth has been repeatedly denied, which compounds the damage and trauma.

In truth, there are many ways to demonstrate fault and hold institutions accountable.

Institutions have a duty to protect children in their care.

Often the institution is already aware of a particular perpetrator of abuse because there have been prior claims, or other victims who have come forward. Frequently, the institution has first-hand knowledge of complaints against the perpetrator that occurred around the time of the abuse, or even police involvement. This can assist in proving that your abuse happened. Accounts are obtained along with contemporaneous evidence.

In most cases, the starting point is simply demonstrating that the perpetrator, and the victim, were at the institution, or the area, at the same time. Expert abuse lawyers are able to build the case from there.

What can someone expect if they want to make a claim for compensation?

You can expect complete confidentiality, support, and empathy. You do not need to be afraid of being judged, refuted, or disbelieved.

Abuse lawyers work in this area of law for a reason. We want to assist the many vulnerable abuse victims out there who deserve acknowledgement, support and compensation.  We are here to fight on your behalf, support and protect you throughout the process, and to do everything in our power to achieve the outcomes that you want us to achieve. We take as much pain and inconvenience out of the process for you as we can.

We understand that it’s often not just about compensation, but also about getting an acknowledgement that the abuse occurred and a formal apology from the institution.  Many victims spend their lives being told “we don’t believe you”, “this didn’t happen”, and “you can’t prove it”. These unfair denials and ‘gaslighting’ of the truth only exacerbates the trauma they have endured for years. Obtaining acknowledgement or personal accountability from the perpetrator and/or institution can be just as important (or even more important) than compensation.

Whilst it cannot be guaranteed, the majority of abuse claims are resolved in informal, out of court settlement conferences that are away from the public eye and are confidential. Your lawyers do the talking on your behalf and you can bring a support person.

If you decide at any point along the way that you are no longer comfortable or you no longer want to proceed, we are guided by you, and will do exactly what you want us to do. You will be in complete control of your own claim. Lawyers are here to support and guide you and to provide you with advice, but we cannot do anything unless you instruct us to. Abuse lawyers are here to assist you in achieving the specific outcomes that you wish to achieve.

How do you evaluate abuse claims?

The amount of compensation to be claimed depends on many variables relevant to the victim’s personal situation and circumstances.

For example:

  • Psychological injury, diagnosis and impairment;
  • Need for medical treatment, counselling, or psychiatric care;
  • Effects on the victim’s past and future ability to work and earn income;
  • The pain and suffering endured;
  • The care and assistance needed now and into the future;
  • Age, living circumstances, drug/alcohol use, periods of incarceration, familial circumstances, life story, etc.

Compensation can often include damages for pain and suffering, income or wage loss, treatment costs, care and assistance or home help costs.

Depending on cost thresholds that apply, the abuse victim may also be able to claim a significant contribution towards their legal fees from the other side.

How long does the claims process usually take?

The average timeline for an abuse compensation claim is about 6-18 months. More complicated claims may take 2-3 years. Much depends on the individual circumstances of the case, and the defendant’s attitude towards resolving the claim.

It is never too late to seek justice

Abuse victims should not be made to feel embarrassed or shamed about their abuse, or making a claim, because they should never have been subjected to abuse in the first place! They were minors who should have been protected but they were failed by those very people and institutions who were charged with keeping them safe. Physical or sexual abuse of a minor is heinous and reprehensible. Rather than being shamed or silenced, abuse victims – at the very least  should be supported, vindicated, acknowledged, and compensated. 

It may seem like it is years or decades too late – but there is no time limitation on abuse claims anymore and meaningful outcomes are available. It is never too late to seek justice.

How can Attwood Marshall Lawyers help?

Attwood Marshall Lawyers are dedicated to helping victims of abuse to obtain acknowledgement, written apologies, treatment and counselling, redress and/or meaningful compensation.  We have years of experience helping clients make abuse claims.  We are trained to listen, support and connect.

Abuse law is a technical area of the law. Our abuse law team are here to support you and to help you through the process. Our message for all the silent sufferers of abuse out there is that we hear you, we see you, and we believe you.  We will listen so that we fully understand your story and what you have gone through so that we can help you achieve whatever outcome you seek – whether it is acknowledgement, an apology, redress, compensation, or another outcome. 

Please do not assume that you cannot succeed with your case or that no one will believe you. Those days are gone. We are ready to listen to your story and can help you understand your rights.

If you want to speak with an experienced and compassionate abuse compensation lawyer, contact our team for a free, confidential appointment (including by telephone). Call Compensation Law Department Manager, Kelli Costin, on 07 5506 8220 or email kcostin@attwoodmarshall.com.au

Read more: Childhood sexual abuse in schools – every child has a right to be safe!

Support Services:

Free and confidential support services are available.

Beyond Blue: Ph: 1300 224 636 
Lifeline: Ph: 13 11 14
1800RESPECT: Ph: 1800 737 732
Suicide Call Back Service: Ph: 1300 659 467
MensLine Australia: Ph: 1300 789 978

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