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It’s estimated that there are 60,000 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in Australia. And for each of these survivors, there are people close to them – such as children, friends and partners – supporting their recovery.  

If you are supporting a survivor, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to best help them. Similarly, if your friend or loved one is contemplating seeking justice, or if you’d like to suggest they consider it, you may be looking for information to understand what the process would be.

This article provides advice on how to support an abuse survivor – from your initial discussions through to seeking justice.


How to speak to a survivor about their experience

Whether your loved one has recently confided in you, or you’ve known about their experience for many years, the most valuable support you can provide is to listen. The Blue Knot website has helpful information for navigating these conversations.

It’s a good idea to:

  • Practice ‘active listening’. This is listening attentively, without judgement. It can include reflecting back what your loved one says, to show you hear them. The act of being listened to without judgement can be an important and validating experience for survivors.
  • Be patient. Don’t rush them or try to fix things while they are talking to you. What they need is to be heard and to have the space and time to tell their story.
  • Provide support resources. In addition to your support you can let your loved one know that there are many professional support networks available. We’ve included a list of support services that we recommend at the end of this article.


Seeking justice: Where do you start?

For many survivors – and those who support them – there will come a time when they consider seeking justice. When this conversation happens, you might to like to offer to research the pathways available.

The first thing to know is that there are two options available for seeking justice.

Option 1: The National Redress Scheme

The National Redress Scheme was introduced in 2018, following recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Some key points to know about the Scheme:

  • Survivors of child sexual abuse can make an application to gain access to counselling, a direct personal response, and a redress payment (compensation).
  • Compensation is calculated based on the type of abuse that occurred, and is capped at a maximum payment $150,000 (for the most severe cases), the average payment is approximately $72,000 and many cases are capped at $45,000.
  • Once you accept an offer of redress under the Scheme, you are barred from making a civil damages claim.


Option 2: A civil damages claim

The alternative is to go through a legal process, called a civil damages claim. For this, you will need a lawyer to assist you in bringing the case. Some key points to know about making a civil damages claim:

  • It allows a survivor to claim compensation for the actual impact on their life, including loss of earnings (past and future) and the pain and suffering endured. This can be a lot higher than the capped $150,000 available through the National Redress Scheme.
  • There is no maximum amount of compensation you can claim.
  • A civil damages claim provides the opportunity to use the court system to hold the responsible institution to account for the abuse.

 

How to choose the right law firm & lawyer

If the person you are supporting decides to make a legal claim, they will need to choose a law firm and lawyer to act on their behalf. This is another time where you might like to offer to do some research, as this can be a difficult step for survivors who still experience trauma.

It’s a good idea to look for law firms that:

  • specialise in Abuse Law
  • have experience representing survivors of child sexual abuse
  • provide the option of choosing a lawyer that your loved one feels comfortable with
  • offer a ‘no win, no fee’ model – meaning you only need to pay for services if the case is successful.


Can you contact a law firm on your loved one’s behalf?

Before you make contact with any law firm, it’s important you have consent from the survivor. At Maurice Blackburn we can have an initial (and free) conversation with you, providing you have permission from your loved one. However, after that conversation – if it sounds like we can help – we will need to speak with the survivor before proceeding with the case.  

Once your loved one chooses a lawyer, and the legal process begins, you can remain involved to support them. While the survivor will always be the primary contact, it can be valuable to have a support person involved – to take notes, ask questions and provide emotional support.

What to expect from the legal process

Each state and territory in Australia has different child sexual abuse laws. For that reason, the process for making a civil damages  claim will differ depending on where the survivor lives.

You and your loved one should speak to your lawyer to understand the steps involved for your specific situation.

Remember to look after yourself

In cases of abuse, psychological injuries are often severe and stay with survivors throughout their life. Supporting someone through this can take an emotional toll. For adult children of abuse survivors – who may have been witness to their parents’ suffering for many years – this can be even more profound.

As a supporter, it’s important you take time to look after your own well-being. Taking time to exercise, eat well and do things you enjoy will help you manage your own mental health. Doing this will help you deal with the emotional stress of your support role.

Support options

Here at Maurice Blackburn we recommend the following support services:

  • Blue Knot (1300 657 380) offers professional phone counselling for adult survivors of child abuse.
  • Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) offers general mental health support resources for you and your loved one.
  • Bravehearts (1800 272 831) can provide counselling, case management, support and information for survivors.
  • Care Leavers Australia Network (1800 008 774) can provide counselling, support and advocacy.
  • Sexual Assault Counselling Australia (1800 211 028) offer trauma specialist telephone counselling for anyone affected by the Royal Commission.
  • Australian Counselling Association (1300 784 333) can help you find a counsellor.
  • Australian Psychological Society (1800 333 497) can help you find a psychologist near you.