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Compensation for Sexual Abuse and Physical Abuse

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has been a pioneer in representing survivors of sexual and physical abuse and is a strong advocate for the rights of those abused as children in “care”.

For decades, our sexual abuse lawyers have represented clients throughout Australia seeking justice and compensation. We acted for abuse survivors years ago, when legal obstacles made it almost impossible to pursue claims in court. We were willing to act when others thought it was all too hard.

Today, we have the largest sexual and physical abuse legal practice in Victoria.

How do I make a sexual abuse compensation claim?

Have you or someone you know been abused sexually while at school, in care, or by a religious organisation? Ryan Carlisle Thomas sexual abuse lawyer Penny Savidis explains how to make a claim for compensation.

What options are available for survivors of Abuse?

If you have been abused, our sexual abuse lawyers will advise you on the various pathways to obtain legal redress or compensation and help you to decide which pathway is best suited to you.

We have acted for thousands of clients who have suffered physical and sexual abuse in various institutional settings, including abuse that occurred in schools, scout groups, orphanages, children’s homes and residential living arrangements and for wards of the State.

We have a specialised team who engage with survivors of abuse in a trauma informed practice. We recognise the difficulties survivors can face in telling their stories. No two experiences of abuse are the same and each client’s circumstances requires a considered approach. For this reason, we consider all pathways when consulting with survivors to determine, in consultation with the survivor, which avenue best suits their needs.

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.

There are many potential legal pathways open to survivors of abuse.

These options include:

  • Common Law claims
  • Redress Applications
  • Negotiated settlement via a protocol with the Victorian Government
  • Victims of Crime Applications; or
  • Sentencing Act Applications.

Common Law Claims

Common law claims can be brought against an institution, an individual or both. Common Law claims can include a claim for pain and suffering and economic loss. In order to bring a Common Law claim, proceedings must be issued in court. Our specialised team can advise as to the suitability of this path and the likelihood of success.

Redress Applications

The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse was established following a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The amount of compensation payable is determined by a complex matrix. Ryan Carlisle Thomas has been critical of this payment matrix - see our blog: How the new sexual abuse redress scheme is not working.

The most you can obtain from the Redress Scheme is $150,000. The Redress Scheme is a quick and less complex process but can fail to properly recognise the harm caused by physical abuse. The Redress Scheme also does not take into account any loss of earnings.

Negotiated settlement via a protocol with the Victorian Government

In recognition of the time, trauma and delays that conventional processes incur, Ryan Carlisle Thomas developed a Protocol which was agreed with the Victorian Government for settling compensation claims outside the Court system for abuse in state care. The 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. The Protocol is often the first pathway explored

Victims of Crime Application

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

Sentencing Act Application

If the perpetrator of the abuse you suffered is convicted of a crime against you, it may be possible to make a Sentencing Act application. This is compensation sought directly from the offender. It is important that survivors of abuse contact our office as soon as possible as strict timeframes apply following conviction and/or a plea of guilty.

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 & institutions accountable for the abuse they committed. This can be done through going to the police, through the courts, through redress or out of court settlements
  • Seeking justice can also be healing for survivors. Having the opportunity to confront the wrongs of the past and to obtain redress for those – with apologies, counselling and compensation – can help survivors to deal with the abuse they suffered.

Although it is never easy, we try to make the process as least stressful for you as possible. We listen to survivors about the best process for them and try to be sensitive to your needs.

We maintain a unique database

Evidence supplied by our clients in abuse compensation claims has allowed us to build a large database of information 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.

We can use the information in our database 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 back up, allegations of abuse from our database, even if the abuse happened many years ago. This assists survivors 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.

Trained to deal with trauma

We have a team of dedicated institutional abuse lawyers and support staff who receive regular training in dealing with trauma so that we are better able to understand our clients’ needs.

We are the largest

Ryan Carlisle Thomas is the largest institutional abuse legal practice in Victoria. Since the early 1990s, we have acted for around 2,500 clients who have suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, cultural abuse and/or neglect. We act for former wards of State, child migrants and children abused in religious institutions, schools and foster 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.

Legal costs and fee structure

If we can act on your behalf, we take on your claim on a No Win 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.

For more information visit our No Win No Fee OR Expenses page.

What to expect at your first meeting

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.

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

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.

If you wish to go ahead with a claim, we request any records that still exist from the institutions where you were abused. We then take a statement from you about your experiences of abuse, either in person or by phone. If we can act on your behalf, we request a report from your treating health practitioner, or if you don’t have a treater, have you assessed by an expert health professional, to detail the effect the abuse has had on you.

There are various options to pursue your claim, and together we can decide which option(s) are best suited to your needs, such as:

  • taking your matter to court
  • settling your matter out of court
  • pursuing a Redress Scheme claim
  • victims of crime claims
  • Sentencing Act applications.

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

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

We respect your privacy

We understand that whilst 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.

Why more Sexual Abuse claims are coming to Court

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.

Civil Litigation and compensation claims

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

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. 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. It is now much simpler to take claims of historical abuse to court. 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). This means there are now no longer time limits to restrict survivors bringing civil claims for damages to court arising from child sexual abuse.

In March 2018, the Victorian State government also introduced the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Bill 2018 (Vic) into parliament to bring to an end the “Ellis defence” that has been relied upon by the Catholic Church to avoid claims of historical sexual abuse for years by requiring unincorporated non-government organisations such as the Catholic Church to nominate a legal entity to be sued in claims of abuse. 

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.

You do not need to go to Court

Our out of Court settlement protocols

Many of the claims we pursue are settled well before ever going to court.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas was the first law firm to devise and negotiate a protocol with the Victorian Government to settle compensation claims outside the court system.

This protocol helps claimants secure monetary payments and statements of apology, which could otherwise be strenuously resisted in the courts. The protocol has been adopted by a number of other religious and non-government organisations, like the Salvation Army, the Uniting Church and the Catholic Church.

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 then look at taking it further to court.

Don’t be “gagged”

We think it is extremely important that abuse survivors aren’t “gagged” in terms of what you can and can’t say if your matter settles. 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 always negotiate with defendants for there to be no confidentiality in relation to the abuse you suffered. This means that even if your matter settles out of court and you sign a Deed of Release, you are still free to talk about the abuse you suffered to anyone should you wish to do so.

We are usually also able to negotiate for there to be no confidentiality in relation to the amount for which your claim settles. This means that even if you sign a Deed of Release settling your matter out of court, you can still tell people how much you were paid and/or what you received to settle your claim.

Reporting abuse to the Police – SANO Taskforce

If you have been sexually abused by a carer, relative, priest, peer or other person, it is very important to report it to the police if this is a step that you feel ready to take.

This is because firstly, a police investigation should bring the offender to justice. Secondly, 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 SANO Taskforce is keen to hear from survivors even where the alleged offender is dead, as this information can still be of assistance. Taskforce SANO can be approached by email at or by telephone on (toll-free) 1800 110 007.

You can also contact your 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.

Once you have reported the crime, the police will make a decision about whether there is enough evidence to charge the offender. If charges are 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 an offender unless you are prepared to give evidence), 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.

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 and/or a Sentencing Act application. 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) 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.

Sentencing Act Applications

Another option to pursue compensation is to apply under the Sentencing Act for a judge to order the individual offender to pay you compensation.

This can only be done if the offender has been convicted. If your application is successful, the judge will order the offender to pay you an amount of money to compensate you for the damage you have suffered.

This application must usually be made within twelve months of the offender being found guilty or convicted of an offence.

Our advocacy and law reform work

While each case is important to us in its own right, at Ryan Carlisle Thomas we also believe in advocacy and systemic change. We have advocated for changes to the law in the area of institutional abuse 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 other law firms and advocacy groups to establish the landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013.

Once established, we also made submissions to the Royal Commission. In addition, we made a submission and appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs regarding Commonwealth Redress Bill in 2018. We are often called upon to provide media commentary about topical institutional abuse issues. We are also proud of our own legal blog where we discuss the latest news about institutional abuse and campaigns for justice and compensation for abuse survivors. You can follow our legal blog at or see us on Twitter at @rctlaw.

Changes to Victorian law on Child Abuse

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.

The changes, introduced by the Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015 (Vic), 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 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.

In March 2018, the Victorian State government also introduced the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Bill 2018 (Vic) into parliament which will end the “Ellis defence” that has been relied upon by the Catholic Church to avoid claims of historical sexual abuse for years. The proposed legislation will require unincorporated non-government organisations such as the Catholic Church to nominate a legal entity to be sued in claims of abuse and is scheduled to come into effect by 1 May 2019.

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

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Thank you Leondina for all of your assistance with my case. Your organisation and kindness made the process much easier to go through and your expertise was critical to us obtaining a great outcome. We have no hesitation in recommending you and RCT Law.


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