Reforms allow compensation for more abuse victims

There are an estimated 60,000 survivors of child sexual abuse in Australia. It's not a stretch to say that there are around a similar number who were subjected to serious physical abuse during their time at notorious institutions such as Westbrook Boys Home and Neerkol Orphanage in Rockhampton.

However, compensation under the National Redress Scheme is only available to a person who was sexually abused, or sexually and physically abused. If there is no history of sexual abuse, then no matter how terrible any physical abuse or related psychological abuse, there is no entitlement to National Redress.

The scheme has been fairly criticised by many survivors of sexual abuse for taking too long and, after having waited too long, for delivering comparatively small payment for what they endured as children and for the irreparable harm caused to their lives. While the reforms of a couple of years ago removing limitation periods for survivors of sexual abuse were a step in the right direction, many believed they didn't go far enough.

Among other concerns, it remained difficult to sue some of the churches, given their often complex structures, and the reforms did nothing to address survivors of physical abuse. There are likely to be just as many survivors of solely physical abuse as there are survivors of sexual abuse.

Institutions such as Westbrook and Neerkol, numerous juvenile detention centres and many other state government and non-government institutions across Queensland were notorious for the level of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated against children. Children who were physically abused in Queensland institutions have had very limited scope to receive compensation. In the late '90s and early this century, the Forde Redress Scheme offered maximum payments of around $30,000 - most received payments of around $7,000. Many weren't even aware they were available and missed out.

All of that changed last month, and not before time. On October 23 our Parliament extended the definition of child abuse from “only” meaning sexual abuse to now include serious physical abuse and other abuse perpetrated in connection with an act or acts of sexual and/or physical abuse (such as psychological abuse, neglect).

At the same time the three-year limitation period ordinarily applying to civil compensation claims for (the now wider meaning of) child abuse has been abolished, retrospectively.

It is important to recognise and acknowledge that a survivor of child abuse will take on average longer than 20 years to disclose what happened, and much longer again before they find the courage to seek justice.

There were other reforms, including the ability to claim against a “related entity” if the original institution no longer exists, and the reverse onus of proof, meaning that if abuse is alleged, institutions must prove they took all reasonable steps to prevent the abuse from occurring. These important and long overdue reforms mean that every child who was ever abused while a ward of the state, or under the care and protection of the state, or in an institution whether or not that institution was run by the government can now seek compensation.

We will continue campaigning for reforms that ensure survivors of abuse receive fair compensation for the horrific injuries they suffered. 

If this has happened to you, or someone you know, talk to one of our specially-trained institutional abuse lawyers. It won't cost you anything to find out where you stand. 

RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Abuse law

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Jed McNamara

Maurice Blackburn Sunshine Coast
Jed McNamara is a highly experienced personal injuries compensation Associate in Maurice Blackburn’s Maroochydore office on the Sunshine Coast. He also sees clients in our visiting office in Gympie. Jed helps clients with a range of compensation claims. He also a senior member of ...

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