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Compensation for Sexual Abuse and Physical Abuse

Confidential and free legal consultation

Our specialist team of abuse lawyers will advise you on the various pathways to obtain financial compensation or legal redress. You will then be best informed in deciding which path most suits you.

In our experience, most clients find our process a huge help in dealing with past trauma and renewing their future.

Your options include:

While each of these options has its good and bad features, they are different in one important sense.

Both Common Law claims and Out-of-Court settlements offer potentially much larger financial payouts than does Redress.

The difference between one option and another can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In recent years, following changes to laws on child abuse, a number of court decisions have awarded abuse survivors significant compensation, some in excess of $1 million.

For more information about your options, a good place to start is our Pathways to Justice eBook.

Pathways to Justice eBook
Download Pathways to Justice eBook

Victoria's largest Abuse Law firm

As the largest Abuse Law practice in Victoria, we have acted for more than 2,5000 clients who have suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse or psychological abuse.

  • We were a pioneer in representing survivors of sexual and physical abuse
  • Our team takes a trauma-informed approach, recognising the difficulties survivors can face in telling their stories
  • We are driven to helping clients move forward with their lives.

When you are ready to talk

Call 1300 366 441 to make a free, no-obligation appointment.

Email your query to our dedicated abuse law team.

Your first appointment is free and completely confidential.

What do you find most people are searching for when they come to see you?

Some of our clients have never spoken to anyone about past abuse, while others have seen the police or counsellors but have just decided to seek legal assistance. All of our clients are seeking help so it is important to answer their questions in a plain and open manner.

Where our abuse legal team has won cases

RCT Abuse Law

We understand that taking steps to seek compensation for abuse you have suffered can be challenging.

RCT Law is the largest Abuse Law practice in Victoria. Since the early 1990s, we have acted for more than 2,500 clients who have suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, cultural abuse or neglect.

As a pioneer in the area, we have acted for abuse survivors for decades, back when legal obstacles made it almost impossible to take claims to court. We were willing to act when others thought it was all too hard. And we are still fierce advocates for the rights of those abused as children now that there are fewer legal barriers to take action than before.

We act for former wards of the State and private placements, child migrants, members of the stolen generations and children abused in religious institutions, private and state schools and in foster and out of home care. We also pursue claims for those abused in the defence force, health sector, prison system, disability sector, by members of the police force and at sporting and other clubs.

Ours is a trauma-informed legal practice.

Our advocacy and law reform work

While each case is important to us in its own right, we also believe in advocacy and systemic change. We have advocated for changes to the law in the area of abuse law for years.

For example, we made a submission to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations. We lobbied hard along with survivors and other advocacy groups to establish the landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013.

Once established, we also made submissions to and appeared on behalf of various witnesses before the Royal Commission. Additionally, we have made submissions and appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs regarding the Commonwealth Redress Bill in 2018. We have also made submissions into the effectiveness of the National Redress Scheme to its second year anniversary review and were invited to make a submission to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Technical Amendments) Bill 2020.

We are often called upon to provide media commentary about topical abuse law issues. You can follow our legal blog where we discuss the latest news about abuse law and campaigns for justice for abuse survivors.

Trained to deal with trauma

It's not easy coming forward about abuse.

We have a team of dedicated Abuse Law lawyers and support staff who receive regular training in how to deal with trauma. We understand navigating the legal system while dealing with trauma can be overwhelming, so we ensure we are best placed to be better able to understand your needs.

Our trauma-informed approach aims to avoid re-traumatising abuse survivors with the legal process. We respect and acknowledge that many survivors suffer serious ongoing effects of the abuse in their daily lives, including on their mental health. We recognise that trauma can affect survivors' ability to provide our team with instructions at times and to trust people in authority, including lawyers. We are guided by our clients as to the least traumatic way to tell your story, and our processes are adapted to the individual's needs.

There are various legal options available to abuse survivors, from taking their claim to court or proceeding with an out of court settlement. We can guide you through selecting the best approach to deal with your particular situation.

What compensation options are available for survivors of abuse?

We don't believe in a “one size fits all” approach to dealing with abuse. No two experiences of abuse are the same, so survivors' particular circumstances require a tailored approach.

Our lawyers listen to survivors' stories and then prepare advice tailored to the individual situation, advising each individual of the various options available to them to secure compensation or legal redress. Our lawyers help survivors of abuse to make the decision as to which pathway best suits their needs.

There are many potential legal pathways open to survivors of abuse. These options include:

We have a specialised Abuse Law team that is trained to engage with survivors of abuse in a trauma-informed way while still providing practical legal advice.

Common Law (Civil) Claims in Court

At RCT Law our specialised Abuse Law team can advise you about the suitability of issuing court proceedings in your situation and of your chances of success.

In order to bring a common law (civil) claim, proceedings must be issued in court, although there are other options that don't involve litigation.

Common law claims can be issued in court against institutions, individuals or both. Common law (civil) claims can include compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, economic loss and loss of earning capacity.

With the removal of a number of legal barriers recently, it can be easier to take action in court than it was in the past. Most claims that are issued in court settle before reaching a trial.

Out of Court Settlements

At RCT Law we recognise that for many reasons not everyone wants to take their abuse claim to court, or straight to court. Many of the claims we pursue are settled well before ever going to court.

RCT Law was the first law firm to pioneer a Protocol with the Victorian State Government to settle compensation claims for abuse in State care outside the court system. This protocol helps abuse survivors secure monetary payments and letters of apology where requested from the institutions involved in their claims.

The Protocol has also been adopted by a number of other institutions we deal with and has helped secure financial payments 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. The Protocol is often the first pathway explored.

Our out of court settlement protocol allows for the exchange of material and an out of court settlement conference to try to resolve claims in the first instance. If the matter does not resolve, we can then issue proceedings in court.

Redress Applications

The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse was established in July 2018 following recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The scheme commenced on 1 July 2018 and is due to run for 10 years.

The ‘opt-in' nature of the Redress Scheme relies on potential defendants to claims first agreeing to participate in the Scheme. The Commonwealth cannot compel potential defendant institutions to participate. Unfortunately, not all institutions have opted in to the Redress Scheme.

There are three potential elements of redress:

  • monetary payment
  • access to counselling and psychological services; and
  • a direct personal response from the responsible institutions if survivors request this.

The redress scheme is usually an alternative to taking your matter to court or settling it out of court. In some situations, if you have already resolved your claim, you may be eligible for a further redress “top up” payment.

The amount of compensation payable under the National Redress Scheme is determined by a complex matrix. RCT Law has been critical of this payment matrix - see our blog: How the new sexual abuse redress scheme is not working.

Under the National Redress Scheme, the maximum payment you can obtain is $150,000 for claims involving penetrative sexual abuse.

Is redress my best option?

The Redress Scheme is a quick and less complex process but it may not be your best option. For example, your claim may be worth much more than $150,000. The Redress Scheme does not deal with claims involving physical and/or emotional abuse unless that abuse occurred in connection with sexual abuse. The Redress Scheme also does not compensate for any loss of earnings you may have suffered as a result of the abuse.

It is important for survivors to understand what compensation may be available to them under the new National Redress Scheme, and how making a claim under the scheme differs to other options for compensation.

If you already have a claim on foot, whether in court or out of court, you can continue with that claim and do not have to make a claim through the government's Redress Scheme. In many situations, you may be better off pursuing your claim outside of the government's Redress Scheme – for example, if your claim may be worth more than $150,000; or if you have also suffered other abuse such as physical abuse, cultural abuse or neglect which is not covered by the Redress Scheme.

"Top ups"

If you have previously settled a claim and have already received compensation or a monetary payment (whether by taking your case to court or settling a claim out of court), you still may be able to apply for a “top up” payment through the Redress Scheme. This is the case even if you have signed a Deed of Release giving up your rights to make any further claims. However, any prior payments made to you by a participating institution will be deducted from any amount payable through the Redress Scheme, after adjustment for inflation.

If you accept a payment through the government's Redress Scheme, you will be required to sign a full release and cannot pursue another claim against the same institution(s) in the future.

If you are deemed ineligible for a monetary payment under the Redress Scheme for whatever reason, you may still be entitled to access counselling or psychological services and a direct personal response from the offending institutions.

Why we don't recommend Redress

RCT Law does not generally recommend the Redress Scheme because of the lower financial payments compared to litigation or out of court settlement.

Most importantly, the bureaucratic, faceless manner of the scheme and the fact that legal representation is excluded, means that survivors of abuse have no one representing their interests and arguing for their rights. There is no opportunity for the survivor's voice to be heard outside the confines of the application..

We can advise you about which avenue, including redress, is the most appropriate to your situation.

Revisiting Past Settlements or Judgments

There have been recent changes to the laws in Victoria with the passage of the Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Vic) which mean that survivors of childhood abuse who settled legal claims in the past now have the opportunity to seek fairer outcomes.

The history of unfair and token settlements for child abuse is well known. However, legislation has now been passed by the Victorian Parliament which will allow courts to “set aside” or overturn many of those old settlements and court judgements. A court will be able to overturn old settlements where it is “just and reasonable” to do so.

When is it “just and reasonable” to overturn an old settlement?

The legislation does not set out in any detail the meaning of “just and reasonable”. The court's discretion to decide what is just and reasonable in each case will allow the court to apply broad principles and take into account any relevant factors. Matters that are likely to be taken into account include:

  • whether the survivor was legally represented;
  • the amount of the settlement/judgment, with larger amounts being less likely to be set aside;
  • the process adopted by the institution in resolving the claim; and
  • whether there was a reliance on the operation of the limitation period in reducing the amount paid. In other words, whether the institution argued that the prospect of the survivor succeeding in their claim was unlikely due to the operation of time limits in place at the time.

In practice, the new laws will mean that the small amounts paid by the Catholic Church and other organisations (under the Melbourne Response and other schemes) are likely to be overturned. If you signed a Deed of Release, or otherwise settled a claim, you may be able to have the deed set aside and make a further claim.

Redress Scheme and revisiting past settlements/judgments

If you have signed a deed of release or accepted an offer under the National Redress Scheme, you cannot seek to overturn an unfair settlement. This is also the case in relation to any past settlement that that has been taken into account in any deed of release or accepted offer of redress under the National Redress Scheme.

Do I have to go to court to overturn my deed or settlement?

While the legislation gives the power to set aside the judgement or deed of release to a court, it is our view it will not always be necessary in practice for a court application to be made. RCT anticipates that many institutions will recognise where past settlements have been inadequate and will be prepared to reassess those settlements if approached, without the need for a court application.

Time Limit for overturning past deeds or settlements

You should be aware that the changes only apply to settlements made before 1 July 2015. The significance of this date is that this is when the limitation laws affecting claims for child sexual abuse, were changed. Settlements on or after that date will therefore not be able to be re-opened.

Do the new laws apply to me?

If you believe that:

  • your settlement was made before 1 July 2015; and
  • the amount you were paid was unfair or insufficient.

Please call our expert Abuse Law team on 1300 366 441 for advice.

Victims of Crime Applications (VOCAT)

More information about making a Victims of Crime Application can be found in our Crimes Compensation - VOCAT section.

Sentencing Act Applications

RCT Law can help you pursue a Sentencing Act Application in relation to the abuse you suffered, and have successfully handled such claims for many years.

If the perpetrator of your abuse is convicted of a crime against them, it may be possible to make a Sentencing Act application. This is compensation sought directly from the offender, usually where they have assets.

If successful in a Sentencing Act application, a judge can order the individual offender to pay you an amount of money to compensate you for the damage you have suffered.

It is important that survivors of abuse contact our office as soon as possible in relation to apply for a Sentencing Act Application as strict timeframes apply following conviction and/or a plea of guilty. The application must be made within twelve months of the offender being sentenced.

Why is it important to seek justice?

There are a number of reasons why we think it is important for survivors to seek justice. It is important to hold offenders and institutions accountable for the abuse they committed. This can be done through going to the police, through the courts, through redress, out of court settlements and other options.

Seeking justice can also be a step towards healing for survivors. Having the opportunity to have a voice and confront the wrongs of the past and to obtain redress for those – with apologies, counselling and compensation – can be an important therapeutic steps for survivors.

Although it is never easy, at RCT Law we try to make the process the least stressful for survivors as possible. We listen to survivors about the best process for their circumstances and try to be sensitive to the survivors needs.

We maintain a unique database

With the help and consent of our clients, we have built a large database of evidence about offenders and institutions where abuse is known or suspected to have taken place. This enables us to profile known offenders as well as institutions where abuse has taken place.

The information in our database is used to support our clients' claims to identify if we have evidence regarding the same offenders or the same type of abuse from our past and present claims. By doing this, we are often able to corroborate, or support, allegations of abuse from our database, even if the abuse happened many years ago. This assists our clients to strengthen their claims and is especially important in cases where clients' institutional records have been destroyed or where alleged or proven offenders have died.

Legal costs and fee structure

If we can act on your behalf, we take on your claim on a No Fee No Fee OR Expenses basis, which means we believe you have reasonable prospects of achieving a successful outcome

This means you will be liable to pay our total legal costs (including scale fees, an uplift fee and disbursements) only if there is a successful monetary outcome in your matter.

What to expect at your first meeting with us

It is important that you feel at ease when you first come to see us, so the first meeting is an opportunity to listen and offer advice about how you may wish to make a claim. We understand how important it is that a survivor knows who is assisting with their claim. For this reason, we strive to ensure that the first meeting a survivor has with us with the lawyer who will be working with them throughout their claim.

In order for our lawyers to provide comprehensive advice about the legal avenues available to survivors we listen to survivors' stories. We understand that sometimes we are the first people survivors speak with about their abuse. It's because of this, where possible, we work with survivors to find the best way for them to feel comfortable telling their story; whether in person, over the telephone, in writing and whether in one go or over a number of meetings. Before providing advice, we usually request any records that still exist from the institutions where the survivor alleges abuse and/or any records the government may retain.

There are various options to pursue claims for compensation, and by providing advice we help the survivor decide which option(s) are best suited to their needs.

We also encourage abuse survivors to report the abuse to the police, if they feel able to do so.

We respect your privacy

We understand that while some abuse survivors wish to air the details of their abuse publicly, for others this would be the last thing they want.

We never disclose your personal information to anyone without your consent. This applies even if we act for your family members or other people you know.

Making an enquiry

We encourage all abuse survivors to come forward to tell your story if it is a step that you are ready and wish to take.

We understand that contacting us for the first time can be a huge step. On average it takes nearly 24 years for someone to disclose the abuse they have suffered. For some survivors, the first call they make to us is the first time they have ever disclosed their abuse.

What can someone expect when they see a lawyer about institutional abuse?

It is important that our clients feel at ease when they first come to see us, so the first meeting is an opportunity to listen and offer advice to clients about what they will need to make a claim.

Historical sexual abuse

Although many abuse survivors come to us years after the alleged abuse, it is still possible to take action.

I was abused a long time ago and never reported it. Is it too late to make a compensation claim?

It is common for survivors of abuse to take many years or even decades before they are able to talk about and report historic child sexual abuse. This does not negate their right to claim for compensation for the abuse.

Don't be “gagged”

We think it is extremely important that abuse survivors aren't “gagged” in terms of what they can and can't say if they settle their claim for compensation. This is especially the case where, as children, many abuse survivors were threatened or felt forced to keep their abuse secret.

For these reasons, we negotiate with defendants for there to be no confidentiality in relation to the abuse you suffered. This means that even if survivors settle their matter out of court and signs a Deed of Release, they are still free to talk about the abuse they suffered to anyone should you wish to do so.

Changes to Victorian laws on Child Abuse

There have been significant changes to the law in Victoria to make it easier for abuse survivors to take their claims to court.

To date, the most significant reform in Victoria (since the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations' 2013 Betrayal of Trust Report and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse's Final Report in December 2017) has been the removal of time limitations that previously existed for commencing legal proceedings for compensation in cases of child abuse.

Limitations of Actions

Until recently, claims of sexual abuse were notoriously difficult to prosecute. This was because most claims were “statute barred” or out of time, meaning that abuse survivors had to apply for an extension of time to even have their matter brought before the courts.

Given many survivors do not come forward for decades after their abuse, this was often a significant hurdle. In 2015, the statute of limitations was abolished in claims of child abuse in Victoria by the passage of the Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015 (Vic). 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.

As a result of these changes there are no longer time limits to restrict survivors bringing civil claims for damages to court arising from child sexual abuse.

Ellis Defence

There were also additional obstacles when taking action against the Catholic Church, who hid behind the so-called “Ellis defence” to make it next to impossible to bring claims. This defence was adopted by a number of other institutions in the past.

The Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2018 (Vic) has brought an end to the Ellis defence.

Although cases of historical child sexual abuse were few and far between in the past, there have been a number of recent decisions that have opened the door for survivors to bring similar action. Survivors have been successful in seeking damages for pain and suffering (general damages), past and future economic loss and medical expenses (special damages) and exemplary damages through the courts. Claims have been brought in a number of ways – in negligence, for breach of statutory duty, arguing vicarious liability and direct liability.

Other significant changes to the law in Victoria 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 now Working With Children Check requirements for ministers of religion.

There is a new criminal offence for 'grooming' children with the intention of committing child abuse. There is also a new criminal offence of failure to disclose sexual offences, which makes it an offence if adults fail to report a reasonable belief that a child sexual offence has been committed to police unless they have a reasonable excuse for not reporting. In addition, there is a new criminal offence of failure to protect a child from sexual abuse by a person in a position of responsibility within an organisation, which applies to people within organisations with authority who knew of a risk of child sexual abuse by someone in the organisation and negligently failed to reduce or remove the risk.

In July 2017, the Wrongs Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2017 (Vic) came into force. The legislation provides for an organisation to be held liable in negligence for organisational child abuse, unless it can establish that it took reasonable precautions to prevent the abuse.

  • The recently passed Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Vic) means that survivors of childhood abuse who settled legal claims or took them to court in the past now have the opportunity to seek fairer outcomes.

RCT Law is committed to keeping you informed as to how changes to the law affect your rights.

Reporting your abuse to the Police – SANO Taskforce

It is very important that abuse, whether it be by a “carer”, teacher, student, relative, priest, peer or another person, is reported to the police if this is a step that the survivor feels ready to take.

A police investigation is the best initial avenue to bring the offender to justice. Further, a criminal charge or conviction could make it more likely that a survivor will be successful should they pursue a civil claim for compensation.

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 SANO Taskforce is keen to hear from survivors, even where the alleged offender is dead, as this information can still be of assistance to them when pursuing investigations for other survivors.

Taskforce SANO can be approached by email at sanotaskforce@police.vic.gov.au or by telephone on (toll-free) 1800 110 007.

Officers working for Taskforce SANO are specially trained to ensure a trauma-informed approach when speaking with survivors.

Survivors can also contact their local Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT) for claims of non-institutional abuse. These teams offer specialist support to survivors of sexual assault and have been set up by Victoria Police to deal with complaints of sexual assault in a sympathetic manner.

To contact a Victoria Police SOCIT team near you, go to the Victoria Police website: Sexual Offences And Child Abuse Investigation Teams.

Once the crime has been reported, the police will make a decision about whether there is enough evidence to charge the offender. If charges are laid, the survivor may be required to give evidence in court. However, even if a survivor is not prepared to give evidence (which may result in the police choosing not to charge an offender), advice from police is that the crime should still be reported so that if there are subsequent complaints about a particular offender, the police may eventually be able to gather enough evidence to charge the offender.

Our sexual and physical abuse lawyers advise survivors of the best method to pursue compensation. Whichever path you take, a conviction against your abuser could strengthen your case, as it is a public legal acknowledgement of wrongdoing and can provide valuable evidence in your case.

Under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) a survivor is entitled to compensation if they can show that they have been the victim of a crime and that they 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 the survivor was a child. Our lawyers can provide comprehensive advice to survivors about their potential rights.

If you have been a victim of abuse or know of someone who has, please call us on 1300 366 441 or find us at an office near you to arrange a free, confidential and no-obligation first interview.

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