What you need to know about the changes to legislation for abuse survivors

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse revealed shocking stories of the most vulnerable people in care being systematically abused for decades.

These people faced significant legal challenges for years in having their voices heard, their stories believed and the wrongs against them fairly compensated.

In June 2019, the Victorian Government announced changes to legislation that significantly improves the rights of survivors to seek adequate compensation for the horrific abuse they suffered at the hands of institutions. This change means abuse survivors previously paid off in paltry sums by institutions will be able to go back and claim proper amounts of compensation.

Why are these changes necessary?

As the Royal Commission made clear, many survivors of abuse were forced to accept completely inadequate settlements from major institutions and sign deeds as part of this that saw them having to waive their rights to a future civil claim. Within the Catholic Church alone, thousands of survivors of abuse were paid to keep quiet about what happened to them.

Historically, these powerful institutions had systematically taken advantage of the lack of legal rights for survivors – prior to the Royal Commission, limitation periods meant victims were locked out from pursuing proper legal avenues for compensation. The alternative meant approaching the institution directly and asking to be compensated, which generally resulted in small pay-offs designed to lock survivors out of the legal system.

While these limitation periods have since been abolished, survivors who had previously accepted these measly settlements were still effectively barred from going back and making a full compensation claim. 

These new legislation changes mean victims of abuse in Victoria will be able to make a claim for compensation even if they had previously agreed to a settlement with a major institution. This opens up a range of common law entitlements which goes above and beyond the limited options available to survivors under the National Redress Scheme.

These changes have already happened in Queensland and Western Australia, and we have seen many survivors in those states finally getting what they are entitled to.

How is a claim for compensation different to the National Redress Scheme?

The National Redress Scheme simply aims to acknowledge harm done to the survivors of sexual abuse. Monetary compensation is awarded on a scale of severity but you don’t get to have any input into this – an independent decision maker will decide how serious they think your abuse was.

One of the major issues with the National Redress Scheme is that you can only seek compensation or the other basic rights if the institution in which the abuse took place voluntarily signs up to be a part of the Scheme. This means that hundreds, if not thousands, of victims have no possible avenue of seeking redress through the Scheme.

Most importantly, if you accept an offer of Redress under the Scheme, you will never be able to go back and claim compensation.

Only a common law claim for compensation actually holds the institution to account for what happened to you. Unlike the National Redress Scheme, claims for common law damages are tailored to your individual circumstances and there is no maximum amount of compensation you can claim.

What you can claim for

 No amount of financial compensation will ever undo the damage inflicted on survivors of institutional sexual abuse.

However, starting a common law claim for compensation allows you to:

  • Claim for the actual impact on your life – not a capped amount that arbitrarily assesses what happened to you
  • Claim for loss of earnings, past and future
  • Claim for the pain and suffering you’ve endured

Seeking legal advice is important

These changes will mean thousands of abuse survivors may be able to access compensation that actually reflects the severity of the abuse that they suffered.

My specially-trained team and I have helped hundreds of clients hold institutions to account for what happened to them. Not just the institutions that have opted-in to the Scheme, but institutions who have failed to acknowledge the appalling abuses happening behind their closed doors. And we’ve helped these survivors with the care, confidentiality and compassion required.

Our dedicated team understand the difficulties you are facing, and will make sure the process is as simple as possible. We will approach your claim in a respectful and discreet manner, ensuring that your specific needs are met.

Find out more about how we can help you. 

Victorian gov changes to abuse compensation


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Michelle James

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane

Michelle James leads Maurice Blackburn’s Queensland and Northern Territory road injury, work injury and public liability practices, and is the head of our national abuse law practice.

Based in our Brisbane office Michelle has been working in the legal industry since 1998 and is a tenacious fighter for the rights of injured people. She was admitted to practice in 2001 and is a Queensland …

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