In a landmark case, the first of its kind in Western Australia, the courts have acknowledged the lifelong harm caused to survivors of historical childhood sexual abuse committed in institutions.
John experienced horrific sexual abuse in his time at Christian Brothers. His bravery in the court system saw him awarded over $1.33 million in compensation for what he went through, and what he still goes through today.
Salt in the wound
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses for Child Sexual Abuse estimated that some 60,000 Australians experienced childhood abuse.
John’s story is sadly one of many. WA Head of Abuse Law, Gemma Taylor, has spent the past three years representing survivors like him.
The horrific acts of sexual abuse committed by the Christian Brothers, not only in Australia, but worldwide have been highly publicised and are so graphic and widespread they are difficult to comprehend. Children were also subjected to acts of violence using a cat of nine tails, whips, sticks and forced hard labour.
“In Australia, physical and emotional abuse is not able to be compensated in the same way sexual abuse is. In the past, institutions have used a victim’s claims of physical and emotional abuse (in addition to sexual abuse) to reduce the amount to be paid in compensation,” says Gemma.
“This defence, known as the ‘salt in the wound’ defence, is a brutal and barbaric way for institutions to claim that the impact on the survivor was due to physical or emotional abuse, and not the sexual abuse.”
A landmark outcome
Astonishingly, John’s was the first civil case in Australia brought against the Christian Brothers that proceeded to a trial.
On 11 March 2020, the WA District Court awarded him $1.33 million dollars in compensation.
The judgment also sent a very clear message to institutions defending cases against survivors that:
- atrocities of this nature will not go unrecognised and victims must be compensated fairly
- ethnicity, background or socio-economic status should have no impact on the claim or compensation.
The Court was also very clear that institutions cannot use the “salt in the wound” defence to reduce their compensation.
“This ruling is a significant outcome for survivors, who have already faced enough trauma in the hands of institutions like Christian Brothers,” Gemma explains.
“It means that institutions, who use legal loopholes to further victimise survivors, will be less able to avoid paying fair compensation.”
What this means for survivors
John’s bravery in pursing the Christian Brothers through the Court system will give hope and empowerment to tens of thousands of Australians.
Those who were preyed upon whilst the most vulnerable members of our society, young children in institutional care, may now finally be recognised.
“In the past three years, I have seen the legislation change, the Redress Scheme go live and then had the privilege of achieving successful outcomes for survivors that have not only changed their lives, but helped their entire families,” says Gemma.
“If you are a survivor or know one, please, do not remain silent. There is hope.”
To find out more about Maurice Blackburn’s abuse law team, click here.