Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Law Partner and QLD Law Society Accredited Specialist, Jeremy Roche, joins Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB to give answers to the most frequently asked questions by abuse victim-survivors and talks about some of the example abuse cases made against the Catholic Church, Geelong College, and De La Salle College.
As a leading abuse compensation law firm, we receive enquiries daily from people who have been impacted by historical institutional sexual abuse. Often, these conversations are the first the abuse survivors have ever had about the abuse they endured, and the conversations typically involve similar questions.
To help abuse survivors understand their rights and what to expect should they wish to commence an abuse compensation claim, we have answered our most frequently asked questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Am I entitled to compensation for the abuse that I endured?
Yes, you are entitled to compensation for the abuse that you endured. You have the option of accessing the National Redress Scheme, or pursuing a civil compensation claim against your abuser and/or the institution that exposed you to the abuse (eg. the school, church, orphanage, boys home, detention centre, religious group, childcare centre, defence force, government agency, etc). Usually, pursing a civil compensation claim provides greater compensation than the National Redress scheme but every case is different.
2. How do I prove my abuse claim?
You are only required to prove your abuse claim on the “balance of probabilities”, meaning that it is more probable than not that the abuse occurred. The standard of proof is less that the standard required to convict an abuser under the criminal system which requires that you prove it “beyond reasonable doubt”. An experienced abuse lawyer can help you obtain evidence including medical records, records relating to you being in the presence of the abuser (eg. school enrolment history, church records, defence force file, searches, etc), a chronology of events, a sworn statement from you as to what occurred, and where possible, witness statements or other corroborating evidence (although this is not always available). Often, the details of the perpetrator’s other instances of abuse will also be collected for evidence, such as in the case of a serial paedophile/abuser.
3. What am I entitled to claim?
In claiming compensation for abuse, you are entitled to claim a lump sum amount for pain and suffering, income loss you have suffered in your life so far and that you may suffer in the future, past and future medical treatment costs, and care and assistance (where applicable). You are often able to claim a contribution towards your legal costs in the event of settlement or court award.
4. Will anyone believe me?
Yes. We believe you. In decades of assisting abuse victims, we have never seen a case where a fraudulent claim was made or where we did not believe the victim. Usually, the evidence is obvious – particularly with respect to how the victim’s life progressed in the years after the abuse occurred. Whilst defendants often attempt to cast doubt on even the most meritorious claim, many abuse claims are successful even in circumstances where the abuse-survivor initially thought they had insufficient evidence to prove their claim. We are long past the days (i.e.. pre–Royal Commission in Dec 2017) where victims were often ignored, blamed, disbelieved, or treated like they had done something wrong. There are far too many provable cases of abuse in Australia for the guilty parties to keep in the dark or to continue shifting blame onto the abuse victims.
5. Does it matter if my abuser is now dead?
It often does not matter if the abuser is now dead (see the case examples below) although there are certainly exceptions. You can often prove your abuse claim regardless of whether the perpetrator has since died. We believe it unfair to claim (as defendants often do) that the institution responsible for the abuse cannot fairly defend the claim because the perpetrator has passed away – particularly when there is other corroborating evidence of the abuse. Many of these abuse cases involve older perpetrators (such as those in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older) abusing children who were very young – which means it is common for the abusers to have died by the time the abuse-survivor is ready to speak out and make their claim. Nonetheless, if the abuser’s death means that there is no evidence and the institution cannot fairly collect information or defend the claim, the court might grant a permanent stay.
6. Does it matter that I was abused decades ago?
No – there is no time limitation to bring your institutional child sexual abuse claim. You can bring a claim even where the abuse occurred many years ago.
Shocking abuse cases in the news
An abuse victim was subjected to sexual abuse and rape by a Catholic Church priest (and teacher) called Bertram Adderley in the 70’s. The victim was an altar boy who suffered the horrific abuse whilst aged only 10 to 12 years old.
The paedophile priest died in 1983. Prior to his death, the Church repeatedly moved him to different parishes and permitted him to continue working as a priest despite being aware that he had sexually abused other boys.
In 2021, at the age of 52, the abuse victim-survivor was awarded $2,450,000.00 plus a contribution towards his legal costs.
After being awarded the sum, the victim stated that he felt vindication, justice and relief and his only hope was that more victims would come forward.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the abuse victim-survivor was a student at Geelong College who was subjected to repeated and prolonged sexual abuse by an honorary member of the school woodwork and crafts shop. The victim-survivor was abused on more than 50 occasions by the 70-year-old perpetrator who was not an official employee or teacher at the school. Some of the abuse occurred at the school workshop whilst other abuse occurred at the perpetrator’s home and in his car. The perpetrator died in 1999 and the victim-survivor did not mention the abuse to anyone until 2007.
In 2021, the Supreme Court of Victoria awarded the abuse victim-survivor $2,632,319.25 in damages, plus a contribution towards his legal costs.
The victim-survivor was compensated for pain and suffering, past and future income loss, and past and future medical treatment costs.
The court held the school liable for the actions of the perpetrator even though the perpetrator was not an employed teacher, and despite the fact the perpetrator died long before the abuse claim was made. The court found that the school left its students in a vulnerable position by allowing them to undertake woodwork and craft in the school’s workshop whilst supervised only by a non-employee, non-teacher and without sufficient supervision and control by the school.
In the early 80’s, the abuse victim-survivor had been subjected to repeated sexual and physical abuse by his schoolteacher Errol Swain at De La Salle College. The victim was 11 and 12 years old during the period he was abused.
Errol Swain died shortly after the abuse occurred, in 1985, after being exposed a paedophile.
The abuse victim-survivor claimed compensation in the Supreme Court of NSW and in October 2018 was awarded $1,548,488.75 plus a significant contribution towards his legal costs.
The victim-survivor was compensated for non-economic loss (general damages, pain and suffering), past and future income loss, and past and future medical treatment costs.
The claim was brought against the school as the institution responsible for the victim being subjected to the horrific and ongoing abuse by the teacher Errol Swain and was successful despite the perpetrator having died over 30 years prior.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – fighting for justice for abuse victim-survivors
Sadly, the full extent of institutional abuse in Australia is difficult to determine as many cases of abuse have gone unreported and undocumented. Hundreds of meritorious claims have never been made because it has been simply too difficult for survivors of institutional child abuse to come forward. We find the most difficult thing for survivors is to take that first step and tell someone about what happened. It is usually something that they have kept secret or suppressed for many years and coming forward to seek redress is one of the hardest things they will ever have to do. The positives are that many survivors can finally deal with the issue themselves and understand they are not alone.
It is positive to see that the laws are changing to better support victim-survivors who are only now coming to terms with what was done to them so many years ago and are ready to speak out and tell their story.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, our Abuse Compensation Lawyers are trained to listen and connect with our clients and help them understand the compensation that is available to get them the treatment they need and financial security they deserve, as well assisting them with obtaining some measure of closure, vindication, acknowledgement and/or apology for the abuse they endured.
We speak with all abuse victims who contact us for the first time in a strictly confidential, free and no obligation manner, whether in person, by phone, or by email. We want all abuse-survivors to have the opportunity to understand the law and their entitlements to claim compensation or seek redress, even if they decide not to take it further after receiving that advice.
With extensive experience acting for victim-survivors in all types of compensation claims, we are proud of our long-standing history achieving exceptional results and changing people’s lives for the better.
If you want to understand your rights or share your story, please contact our Compensation Law Department on 1800 621 071 any time.
Our compensation lawyers are available for appointments at all our office locations at Coolangatta, Robina Town Centre, Southport, Kingscliff, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. Alternatively, we can arrange a telephone and video conference call if this is your preference.
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