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Compensation for survivors of institutional and sexual abuse

Ryan Carlisle Thomas is the largest institutional abuse compensation law firm based in Victoria. Nationally, we have acted for more than 2,500 clients who have suffered physical and sexual abuse, including former Wards of State and children abused in religious institutions and foster care.

We have established a protocol with the Victorian Government for settling compensation claims for abuse in state care outside of the court system. This protocol has also been adopted by other institutions we deal with and helped secure compensation for survivors of abuse in religious and non-government institutions. We have also pursued claims via state compensation/redress schemes that have operated in Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.

Evidence supplied by our clients in abuse compensation claims has allowed us to build an extensive database of perpetrators and institutions where abuse is known or suspected to have taken place. This database allows us to collect crucial evidence on the type and frequency of abuse and the existence of any previous and outstanding claims. This enables us to corroborate claims of abuse, even if it happened many years ago. This is especially important in cases where clients’ institutional records have been destroyed or where alleged abusers have died.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Established in January 2013, the Royal Commission (https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au) is Australia’s largest-ever national inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Over the past two years, the Royal Commission has held dozens of private and public hearings across Australia to gather evidence from survivors and institutional leaders about how and why abuse happened and how institutions handled abuse complaints. Many of our clients have given evidence to the Royal Commission and found it to be a valuable way of putting their abuse story on the public record. The Royal Commission is due to deliver its final report to the Federal government in December 2017.

During 2015, the Royal Commission has put a particular spotlight on the issue of compensation/redress for abuse survivors. Later this year it will release its final recommendations on how to best compensate and care for survivors in the future. This may include the recommendation of a national or state-based redress scheme for survivors. It will then be up to the Federal and state governments to decide if they will implement such a scheme.

As a law firm representing the interests of abuse survivors, we believe:

  • Institutions should pay compensation – Offending institutions, whether government-run, religious or otherwise, should contribute money to setting up a compensation scheme for abuse survivors.
  • Don’t add insult to injury – Money awarded as compensation must be decent and just, and allow survivors who have previously settled for small ex gratia amounts to “top up” their compensation.
  • Don’t let legal fees erode compensation - Any current or future legal avenues to compensation should maximise the amount payable to survivors and ensure access to inexpensive legal representation.
  • Abolish the “Ellis Defence” - The Royal Commission must recommend changes to the law that prevents religious institutions such as the Catholic Church from shielding itself against having to pay civil damages to abuse survivors. The Victorian Government is also currently looking at this issue.
  • It’s about more than money – counselling and genuine apologies from offending institutions and individuals should accompany all offers of compensation.

We are committed to keeping our clients up to date with the latest news and information regarding the Royal Commission and how any changes in the law may affect your legal rights.

You can read more about the Royal Commission’s public consultation on redress here.

The Royal Commission is keen to hear from survivors of abuse and can be contacted on 1800 099 340 or by post at GPO Box 5283, Sydney, NSW 2001.The Commission holds both private and public hearings with survivors.

Penny Savidis, Ryan Carlisle Thomas Partner and Head of Institutional Abuse, discusses the issues that matter

What is the Royal Commission? What it means for you.

1. What is the Royal Commission? What it means for you.

How to make a sexual abuse compensation claim.

2. How to make a sexual abuse compensation claim.

Why come to RCT to settle your case?

3. Why come to RCT to settle your case?

I know someone who has been abused. What should I do?

4. I know someone who has been abused. What should I do?

Do I have to make the details of my abuse public?

5. Do I have to make the details of my abuse public?


Recent changes to Victorian law on child abuse

The Victorian government is currently introducing new laws to improve child protection standards and avenues to compensation for child abuse survivors.

These reforms are the result of the recommendations of the “Betrayal of Trust” report written following the 2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations.  

To date, the most significant reform in Victoria has been the removal of time limitations that previously existed for commencing legal proceedings for compensation in cases of child abuse. The changes operate retrospectively and remove the previous legal hurdle of needing to apply for an extension of time to take your matter to court if you were ‘out of time’ to bring a claim. This means that even if you were abused many years ago, it will not usually prevent you from bringing a claim because too much time has passed.

Other significant changes include the creation of additional legal requirements for adults who work with children and new criminal offences relating to child abuse. For example, there are new Working With Children Check requirements for ministers of religion and a new criminal offence for ‘grooming’ children for child abuse. There is also a new criminal offence of failure to disclose sexual offences and failure to protect a child from sexual abuse by a person in a position of responsibility within an organisation.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas is committed to keeping you informed as to how changes to the law affect your rights.

Abuse in foster care (out-of-home care or OOHC) – the new wave of child abuse

The Royal Commission has already conducted an inquiry into child abuse in the modern foster care system. About 20,000 Australian children currently live in foster care, mostly in group residential care (“resi-care”) or with foster families. While this modern-day form of care is different to the large institutional facilities of the past, children are still at risk of abuse from carers or other children where there is poor supervision.

The Royal Commission published an issues paper on this growing type of abuse towards the end of 2014. The Royal Commission is investigating whether there is effective regulation of and training for carers within the foster care system.

Police seek our help in securing convictions

Our large database of abuse perpetrators and institutions means we are able to assist police in criminal investigations of child abuse. We also recommend that our clients approach the police to investigate their allegations of abuse if they feel it is a step they are able to take.

In building cases against alleged offenders, police have sought our co-operation by asking us to approach clients who may have been similarly assaulted by particular offenders or who lived in a certain institution. We are able to search our database and identify similar reports of abuse against the institution or perpetrator involved. We can then approach clients who may have suffered abuse by offenders under investigation and invite them to contact us or the police should they wish to speak with them or to authorise us to provide materials to police in order to help obtain a successful conviction. Read about a specific case here.

First steps – if you or someone you know was abused

There are two important first steps to take if you or someone close to you has been abused.

1. Encourage them to report the abuse to police

2. Ask to speak to one of the experts in the Ryan Carlisle Thomas Institutional Abuse team.

How important is it to report the crime?

It is very important. If you have been sexually abused by a friend, relative, priest or other person, it is important to report it to the police for two reasons. First, because a police investigation should bring the perpetrator to justice. Second, a criminal charge or conviction could make it more likely that you will be successful if you intend to pursue a civil claim for compensation.

Your first contact should be the SANO Taskforce in cases of institutional abuse. The SANO Task Force has been established to investigate historic and new allegations of abuse in response to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child sex abuse involving religious and non-government organisations and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Task Force SANO can be approached by email at: sanotaskforce@police.vic.gov.au or by telephone on (toll free) 1800 110 007.

You can also contact the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT) for claims of non institutional abuse. These teams offer specialist support to victims of sexual assault and have been set up by Victoria Police to deal with complaints of sexual assault in a sympathetic manner. Contact information for a Victoria Police SOCIT team near you can be found here.

Once you have reported the crime, the police will make a decision on whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the perpetrator. If a charge is laid, you may be required to give evidence in court. However, even if you are not prepared to give evidence (and the police may choose not to charge a perpetrator unless you are prepared to give evidence), the crime should still be reported so that if there are subsequent complaints about a particular perpetrator, the police may eventually be able to gather enough evidence to charge the offender.

A criminal conviction against your abuser may increase your case for compensation

Your lawyer can advise you whether your compensation claim should be pursued as either an institutional abuse matter, and/or an application under victims of crime legislation. Whichever path you take, a conviction against your abuser could strengthen your case, as it is a public legal acknowledgment of wrongdoing and can provide valuable evidence in your case. Under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) you are entitled to compensation if you can show that you have been the victim of a crime and that you have suffered loss and damage. Time limits apply in making these claims and an application for compensation should be made within two years of the crime. Extensions are sometimes possible, particularly if the crime occurred when you were still a child. Your lawyer will be able to give you more information about this.

Claims against the offender (Sentencing Act claims)

Another option to pursue compensation is to apply under the Sentencing Act for a judge to order the individual perpetrator to pay you compensation. This can only be done if the perpetrator is convicted. If the application is successful, the judge will order the perpetrator to pay you an amount of money to compensate you for the damage you have suffered. This application must be made within twelve months of the offender being sentenced. Your lawyer will be able to give you more information about this.

Redress schemes for compensation

Over the past 20 years, a number of redress schemes have been set up by state governments to compensate children abused in care. Schemes ran in Queensland and Western Australia but are now closed to new applicants. The Tasmanian redress scheme has been replaced by the Abuse in State Care Support Service to assist people who suffered abuse but who missed out on redress under the previous scheme. The service can make payments of up to $2,500 for medical, counselling and other support.

The South Australian Government has set up a special crimes compensation unit for wards of state care who were abused. Payments are up to $50,000 in cases of extreme abuse.

While no official redress scheme operates in Victoria, the state government has committed to holding a public consultation on setting up a redress scheme later in 2015 as part of its response to the “Betrayal of Trust” report.

Since the 2007 court decision known as the Ellis case, it has been legally almost impossible to sue the Catholic Church for damages relating to historical child abuse. Instead of a court-based avenue to compensation, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne operates its own redress scheme in Victoria for survivors of clergy abuse in the Melbourne Archdiocese, known as the Melbourne Response. The maximum compensation awarded under this scheme is currently $75,000. However, criticism of the Melbourne Response, including compensation amounts, has led to a review of the scheme which is currently ongoing. The Catholic Church also has a scheme known as Towards Healing for cases of clergy abuse outside of the Melbourne Archdiocese (such as regional parishes) which has also attracted significant criticism.

If you would like information about making a claim under any of these schemes or to discuss possible alternatives, please call to speak with one of our lawyers on 1300 366 441.

Overseas inquiries and redress schemes

Several major inquiries into historical child abuse are in progress overseas.

  • In Northern Ireland, the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is currently examining allegations of child abuse in children's homes and other residential institutions in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995. Set up in 2012, the inquiry is expected to deliver its final report in 2016. So far, more than 50 Australians have given evidence in the proceedings, most related to their experiences as child migrants. The Inquiry has also completed studies into homes run by the Irish Sisters of Nazareth and De La Salle Boys’ homes.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, the Residential Institutional Redress Board is now finalising the last of more than 16,000 claims made for abuse in residential care that were lodged following a national inquiry into institutional abuse in the early 2000s. The scheme is now closed to new applicants. A statutory-based organisation set up in 2013 known as ‘Caranua’ continues to process claims for health, housing and other support for people abused in residential care as children.
  • In January 2015, also in the Republic of Ireland, Terms of Reference were released for a national Commission of Investigation into mistreatment of unmarried mothers and children in so-called ‘Mother and Baby Homes’ that operated during the 20th century.
  • The government of Scotland has committed to running a historical inquiry into institutional child abuse during 2015.
  • The United Kingdom government is currently running an Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales between 1970 and the present day. The aim is to examine the failings of state and non-state institutions that have led to child sexual abuse. It is not yet known if or how many Australian citizens will be involved as witnesses.
  • In July 2014, the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry was established to examine abuse of children in the island’s care system ‘over many years’.

What to do next

If you have been a victim of abuse, or know of someone who has, please call to speak with one of our lawyers on 1300 366 441.

If you would like to stay up to date on the latest news from the Royal Commission and campaigns for justice and compensation for abuse survivors, please follow our firm’s commentary in our legal blog.

Useful links

Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au
Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government organisations – the Betrayal of Trust report: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/fcdc/article/1788
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria: http://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/sexual-abuse-in-childhood
Victoria Legal Aid: Sex and the Law: http://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/find-legal-answers/sex-and-law
Care Leavers Australian Network (CLAN): http://www.clan.org.au
Open Place: http://www.openplace.org.au
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au
Connecting Home - a service for the Stolen Generations: http://www.stolengenerationsvictoria.org.au
Child Migrants Trust: http://www.childmigrantstrust.com
The Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants Oral History Project: http://www.nla.gov.au/oral-history/forgotten-australians-and-former-child-migrants-oral-history-project
Pathways Victoria: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au
The Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response: http://www.cam.org.au/Melbourne-Response/Melbourne-Response

If you have been a victim of abuse or any other crime, or know of someone who has, please call us on 1300 366 441 or find us at an office near you.