Sexual Abuse Apology

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Sexual Abuse Apology

Sexual Abuse Apology and the 9 Positive Developments within the Legal System Since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

  • A national apology delivered to those who suffered abuse in institutions within Australia
  • A collective social shift in the way institutional abuse has historically been viewed and dealt with
  • Increased scrutiny on institution and recognition of past wrongs
  • Increased funding for support services for survivors of abuse and for mental health services
  • Introduction and strengthening of child protection legislation
  • Removals of barriers to claim compensation
  • For the first time, institutions have admitted their failings and paid survivors large sums of compensation, sometimes in the millions
  • Investigation of historic abuse claims by police and subsequent arrests and convictions
  • Accountability and targeted action – annual reports by Federal, State and Territory governments on their progress on the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established by the Australian Government in 2013 in response to revelations of historic sexual abuse occurring over decades and the inadequate response of the institutions involved. The national sexual abuse apology by the government may now help to heal some of the damage caused by this abuse.

The Royal Commission ran between 13 January 2013 and 15 December 2017 and had extensive powers to compel the giving and collection of evidence.

4041 phone calls were made to the commission. 25,964 letters were received. 8013 private sessions were held. 21 volumes of findings were published. 409 recommendations were made.

Previous commissions and fact finding reviews had previously been conducted by various State and Territory governments over the decades, but never with the amount of resources and breadth of authority given to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It was this resourcing and federal authority that enabled the Royal Commission to uncover the shocking extent of abuse that had historically occurred and the severe failings that occurred historically occurred in addressing this abuse in terms of the perpetrators of abuse, the institutions who they represented and the needs of survivors.

Since the delivery of the Commission’s final report, a number of positive developments have occurred that arguably, would not have occurred without the important work of the Royal Commission.


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1.  A National Apology to Those Who Suffered Abuse in Institutions Within Australia

On 22 October 2018, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, delivered an apology on behalf of the people of Australia to those who were subject to abuse in institutions. (Transcript can be found here: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/national-apology-address) This was a historic moment of recognition of the abhorrent abuse that occurred and the harm it caused to thousands of Australians.

Numerous institutions have also offered their own apologies to those who have been abused for the wrongs that were committed against them.

2.  Collective Social Shift in the Way Abuse has Been Viewed and Dealt with and Opportunity for Survivors to Come Forward, Tell Their Stories and Be Believed

Of those who spoke to or provided information to the Royal Commission, it was found that it took an average of 22 years for a survivor to reveal their abuse.

Many survivors had believed at the time that they were the only one being abused. Many survivors discovered for the first time that they were not alone.

In many instances survivors did not tell anyone at the time as they did not think they would be believed. For some survivors who did tell people what was happening at the time of the abuse, this was exactly what occurred. They were not believed and in some instances, they were punished for daring to suggest such incidents had occurred.

Several examples of courageous individuals coming forward with their stories of abuse have led to not only a greater level of understanding about the extent of the problems in the past, but an increase in the number of people who have reported crimes and pursued action for past wrongs.

The Royal Commission website published 3593 publically available narratives from survivors sharing their stories to give them a voice and ensure their stories are heard. They can be found here: https://bit.ly/3oEUXEy

3.  Increased Scrutiny on Institutions / Recognition of Past Wrongs

The Royal Commission put institutions and their conduct in the spotlight. For too long, institutions had failed to prevent, address and provide redress for the abuse that occurred under their watch.

4.  Increased Funding for Support Services for Survivors of Abuse and for Mental Health Services

Significant funding has been committed to a range of organisations to assist with support services, mental health services and even legal services.

For example, the New South Wales government has committed:
• $37.7 million for early intervention, child specialist therapeutic services and community resources
• $28.3 million to deliver the Child Sexual Offence Evidence Program
• $14.8 million to expand outreach for Aboriginal people and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities
• $14.3 million for an integrated specialist therapeutic service
• $6.9 million for strengthened Out Of Home Care checks
• $5.9 million for improved safety of children in juvenile detention
• $4.1 million to expand Local Court capacity
• $3.8 million to consult with affected sectors on implementing Child Safe Standards and to develop a scheme for the regulation of Child Safe Standards
• $2.7 million to provide resources for NGO caseworkers
• $2.5 million funding boost for NSW-funded community support services
• $2.1 million for a worker register to better protect children in intensive therapeutic care.

Source: https://www.nsw.gov.au/projects/nsw-government-response-to-royal-commission#where-investments-will-be-made

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5.  Introduction and Strengthening of Child Protection Legislation

a.  Expansion of Background Checks and Mandatory Reporter Legislative Requirements

Working with Children Checks may be common place now, but historically, the regime was not implemented widely until the 2000s. These checks are a screen process conducted by State and Territory government departments to check a person’s criminal record and suitability to work with children in an employed or volunteer capacity.

In the past, many institutions had no proper or thorough process for screening those who came into contact with children.

In recent times, steps have been taken to make Working with Children Checks a nationally available system, so that those who may commit an offence in one jurisdiction will be information available to those in other jurisdictions. This will deal with a fundamental flaw in the system, whereby a person who may have committed an offence or have an issue that would appear on a working with children check in one State or Territory, would not have any such record appear in another State and Territory, thereby removing a crucial opportunity for potential employers to prevent someone who may not be suitable from working with children.

Many occupations who work with children, such as teachers, early childhood and care practitioners, doctors, nurses and police have mandatory obligations to report to their authorities instances where they have suspicious of various forms of abuse, such as physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and exposure to family violence.

Some jurisdictions have also expanded their mandatory reporters to include priests and religious clergy. We have previously written about this topic here.

6.  Removal of Barriers to Claim Compensation

a.  Removal of Limitation Periods to Make Claims

In the past, many people were unable to make a successful legal claim for compensation through the courts because the events they complained of occurred long ago and the limitation period in which to pursue action had long lapsed.

Now, the removal of limitation periods has allowed survivors of abuse to bring claims through the legal system, jurisdictions across Australia have introduced legislation to remove limitation periods allowing survivors to sue institutions and individuals for the abuse they suffered and claim compensation.

These changes in law allow survivors of abuse to pursue their claims in many cases decades after the abuse has occurred.

The following legislation is now in effect, removing the limitation period for historic abuse claims:

The National Redress Scheme was also introduced by the Australian Parliament.

This provided survivors of abuse with an additional avenue in which to seek compensation for the abuse they suffered. However, there are limitations with the Redress Scheme. The Scheme that was introduced has a lower monetary limit available than that recommended by the Royal Commission. The maximum compensation available to a survivor of abuse if $150,000 if they are able to satisfy all of the requirements of the matrix used to determine available compensation. This is a difficult threshold to meet. For many survivors of abuse, they may be able to obtain substantially higher compensation by pursuing civil action against the institution responsible through the courts. The Scheme is also limited to a 10 year period.

The Scheme is only available in relation to the institutions that have signed up to be part of the Scheme. If you were abused in an institution that has not signed up the Redress Scheme, you will not be able to claim compensation through the Scheme.

b.  Some Jurisdictions Have Introduced Legislation to Allow for Overturning of Deeds

For many survivors of abuse who sought compensation from institutions prior to the reforms to limitation periods, they received paltry payouts and had signed away their rights to further compensation under prohibitive deeds of release. Overturning such deeds was often an impossible task.

In a number of jurisdictions around Australia, it is now possible to overturn historic deeds where the compensation previously received was inadequate.

Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia and Victoria have all enacted changes to their legislation to allow for the overturning of deeds in various ways. New South Wales is yet to introduce any legislation to allow for the overturning of deeds and recent decisions of the Supreme Court of New South Wales do not support the overturning of deeds.

c.  Introduction of Nomination of Proper Defendant Provisions

Another barrier for many survivors of abuse, particularly noted in relation to abuse suffered within the Catholic or other churches, is that the institution was not set up in a structure that provided for a legal entity that could be sued. In some instances, this was a deliberate tactic, as deployed by the Catholic Church (as seen in the use of the “Ellis defence”) to ensure that survivors of abuse were unable to sue the church for compensation and limited the ability to recover compensation from the Church.

As a result of this unsavoury situation, recommendation was made, and in various jurisdictions, legislation enacted to ensure that where there was not a traditional legal defendant, the institutions would have to nominate a defendant who had sufficient assets to response to any claim made against them. This vitally important change provides an avenue for recourse for survivors that was not previously available.

7.  Increased investigation of historic abuse matters by Police and subsequent arrests and convictions

The extensive powers of the Royal Commission allowed it to uncovered significant amounts of information and evidence in a structured way. As a result, 2575 referrals to authorities were made to authorities in various State and Territory Police agencies to enable them to investigate and pursue alleged crimes that were uncovered by the Commission.

8.  Annual reports by Federal, State and Territory Governments Reporting on their Progress on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Royal Commission within their Jurisdictions

Each year between 2018 and December 2022, governments around Australia produce an annual report outlining the developments and progress they have made to implement the 409 recommendations of the Royal Commission and improve the safety and welfare of children across Australia.

This commitment to report on progress is a measurable step to ensure real action is made and the reports of the Commission are not just filed away, but turned into actions.

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Comments (20)

  • richard nolan Reply

    -This great but why only Institutions what about sporting clubs schools as in public, not boarding homes like Gosford etc IM 62 this year sexual abuse destroyed my life since It started when I WAS 4 – I never had kids never been in a happy relationship as would many others survivors out there that were abused at sporting clubs lifesaving clubs etc IM living proof, money sure would help a lot, the metal pain you live with for life.

    June 5, 2021 at 3:21 pm
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      Koffels Reply

      Hi Richard

      Thank you for your comment.

      In child abuse claims, the term “institution” is not limited to children’s homes & boarding facilities. It is a term that often used to distinguish abuse that happened in a “domestic environment” e.g abused by family members. Institutions may include Scouts, school, youth camps, religious institutions, government institutions and many more.

      In your case, the entity that runs the sporting clubs is the potential defendant.

      June 10, 2021 at 10:35 am
  • Barbara Benham Reply

    What about those who were sexual abused by mother, using siblings and prostitution. I was not able to have children due to the abuse I suffered.

    June 1, 2021 at 8:45 pm
  • Nerissa Reply

    I agree with with Marcia. What about the ones who couldn’t escape. I received a $10k payout for 5 years of sodomy and maintain a relationship with a minor and went to prison. My family actually said it couldn’t have been that bad if that’s all I got compared to institutional abuse victims. I was absolutely humiliated.

    May 25, 2021 at 3:45 pm
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      Koffels Reply

      Hi Nerissa

      Thank you for your comment.

      The monetary compensation provided by the Victims of Crime may be significantly less compared with the compensation one may receive via a civil claim. The amount of compensation under a government scheme like this is not a reflection of what you went through and the impacts of that abuse on you. It is merely a financial assistant and recognition payment provides to the victim by the government.

      We encourage all survivors of child abuse to explore their options of making a civil claim and use Victims of Crime and the National Redress Scheme as their last resources for compensation.

      June 10, 2021 at 2:21 pm
      • Leonie Reply

        What about domestic sexual abuse survivors?

        July 11, 2021 at 10:07 pm
  • Bill Reply

    So once you take the redress then that’s it – you can’t go and sue them again correct?

    May 25, 2021 at 1:04 pm
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      Koffels Reply

      Hi Bill

      Thank you for your comment.

      Under the current law, if someone has accepted the payment from the current National Redress Scheme, they cannot go back and make another claim against the same institution or institutions that they signed off under the National Redress Scheme.

      Setting aside a period settlement is never easy. There are many restrictions under the law in setting aside a Deed and the laws vary in all Australian states.

      Some survivors who received payment and sign a deed of release under other schemes (not the National Redress Scheme) or byways of out of court settlement or judgment in the past, may still be able to bring a claim against the same institution(s). If this applies to you, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation.

      June 10, 2021 at 4:04 pm
  • Jonique Del Prete Reply

    And what about us kids that were abused by the victims themselves? A lot of these abused children grew up and had kids, and for whatever reason chose to abuse them too. Yet they get pay-outs and apologies! And we get nothing, not even acknowledgement. The flow-on effect never stops.

    May 10, 2021 at 6:19 pm
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      Koffels Reply

      Dear Jonique

      Thank you for your comment.

      Child sexual abuse often becomes an inter-generation trauma in which the traumatic effects of the historical child abuse of one family member were sent down to the younger generation of the family. Inter-generation trauma is well aware and recognised by mental health professionals.

      However, when it comes to the law, making a claim against an institution as a secondary victim of a historical child sexual abuse matter is largely untested in the Australian legal system.

      As lawyers who specialise in child sexual abuse claims, we have received many similar inquires in the past. We will keep a close on the development of the law in this area.

      June 10, 2021 at 4:50 pm
  • Marcia Reply

    What about the rest of us who were molested by our fathers and family friends, even though it was reported but nothing came of it because he was believed saying I was a liar, they believed him and he went onto continue as well as passing me onto a friend of his who did the exact same thing.

    April 27, 2021 at 10:26 am
    • Kathleen Reply

      What about kids that where abused in the sixties 70s

      August 3, 2021 at 8:25 pm
      • identicon
        Koffels Reply

        Hi Kathleen,

        We have many clients who suffered abuse in the 60’s and 70’s. The challenge with instances of abuse that happened 50 or 60 years ago is that most often the perpetrator will have passed away.

        If the abuse took place in an institution or an institutional knowingly turned a blind eye to the abuse then a civil case might be possible.

        If a civil case is not an option, you may still be able to receive financial assistance and counselling from the Victims of Crime or Victims Services.

        If you would like to speak to one of our specialist lawyers about your legal options please contact us or call us on 02 9283 5599.

        August 4, 2021 at 9:06 am
    • Sheryl Reply

      Exactly Marcia it was multiple people did this to me never beleived by anyone this began as a baby family relative and many other men as my mother couldnt keep her nickers on so her behaviour bought them into our home while father was at work not just me thow my sisters also .there is nothing for us $10,000 is not worth the horror of what we went threw ..

      August 5, 2021 at 11:20 am
  • JoAnn Reply

    Yeah, we live with it every day and it just goes on and on. My marriage even went bad because of what I went through. I lost my hair because of the stress but they get away with it and Die before anything is done.

    April 25, 2021 at 12:27 am
    • identicon
      Koffels Reply

      Dear JoAnn

      Thank you for your comment.

      Recover from childhood trauma is often a long and bumpy journey. Self-awareness of the impacts of the trauma is the first step towards healing.

      Some survivors may find a sense of closure and justice by going through the criminal proceeding or receiving compensation from a civil claim. When the perpetrators have passed away and there was no institution liable for the abuse, often the survivors are left with very limited options for compensation. They may be able to apply for financial assistance under the Victims of Crime.

      We encourage all survivors of child abuse to explore their options of receiving compensation. Apart from making a claim for compensation, getting the right psychological support is also a vital element towards recovery.

      June 10, 2021 at 4:46 pm
  • Ruby Reply

    Winlaton, Nunawading 1989

    March 28, 2021 at 11:54 am
  • V Heycox Reply

    Royal Commission is not worth much at all to those of us who have lived with the terror and trauma for most of our lives…all it does is talk about changing things for the future…and diddly for those of us that still live with past Everyday in the here and now.

    February 20, 2021 at 12:17 am
    • Vanessa Reply

      Yes totally agree my situation is living with this trauma and all the medical issues from this is a daily battle. But my problem is the institutions I was in are now long gone and probably the people who did this to me are dead so where does that leave me. NOWHERE… just in my own dark world of pain and trauma. No amount of money could ever fix this…

      April 14, 2021 at 11:47 am
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        Koffels Reply

        Hi Vanessa.

        Thank you for your comment.

        No amount of money can undo the devastation caused by the abuse.

        Identify the correct respondent can be challenging in some matters. In a civil claim, we not only look at the institution that was responsible for looking after the children but also the entity that introduced the children to the institution, the structure of the institution, how they were staffed and funded and whether they were insured.

        We will be able to help you to explore your options of making a claim. If a civil claim is not an option for you, you may be able to apply for compensation under the Redress Scheme or Victims of Crime.

        Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.

        June 10, 2021 at 9:53 am

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