The Redress Scheme for Child Sex Abuse Victims Is Unjust and Damaging
By Judy Courtin and Chris Atmore
September 3, 2018
A man, sexually assaulted in the 1970s at Melbourne’s Trinity Grammar School, recently received $500,000 in compensation. This prompted the elite private school to opt into the national redress scheme for victims of institutional child sex abuse.
At face value, Trinity, along with other institutions joining the national scheme, has put the interests of victims and survivors of institutional child sex crimes, above and beyond its own.
But, this disguises a much more disquieting reality.
The redress scheme we have now is one that re-traumatises many victims and is a shamefully adulterated version of what was recommended by our royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
First, the $200,000 maximum redress payment recommended by the royal commission was mysteriously and ill-advisedly diluted to $150,000.
Second, if a child was sexually assaulted in more than one institution, which is extremely common, a maximum payment of $50,000 for some or $150,000 for others, still applies. This means many institutions are actually “rewarded” by only having to pay a portion of their financial accountability.
Third, the royal commission’s recommendation delivered a well thought out matrix to guide determinations. This matrix consisted of 100 points: 40 points would go the severity of the sexual abuse, 40 points to the severity of the impacts of the sexual abuse, and 20 points to other circumstances such as whether the child was in an orphanage or boarding school at the time.
This makes sense.
The royal commission correctly found that while child sexual abuse can have multiple, complex and profound impacts, such impacts may differ by individual and can change over time.
The severity of the sexual abuse and the severity of the impacts must be considered and determined separately. The national redress scheme, though, arrogantly and dangerously disregards these critical distinctions. How one victim experiences the trauma of assault may be different in degree from the impact on another, and the onus should be on the entity responsible to bear that specific burden.
Instead, the national scheme uses an assessment framework which imposes a hierarchy of abuse in which claimants who suffered penetrative abuse (level 1) are the only survivors who can possibly be granted the maximum payment of $150,000. Even in these cases, the amount reduces to $100,000 (or less) unless there were additional “extreme circumstances”, such as institutional vulnerability and related non-sexual abuse.
For those survivors whose experience was “only” contact abuse (non-penetrative sexual assault – level 2), the maximum payment possible is $50,000. There is no provision in these cases for a possible “top up” due to extreme circumstances, as with penetrative abuse.
This assessment framework does not reflect survivors’ experiences. For example, while some survivors have endured horrific penetrative abuse, there are many others who have suffered years of arguably equally horrific “contact abuse”, with associated fear and trauma, from which psychiatrist’s reports have concluded they will never completely recover. The existing redress scheme dismisses such life-long egregious impacts on survivors, unless the child was “penetrated”. Such distinctions are fictitious and wholly unjust.
An example of the absurdity of such distinctions involves a child who was sexually assaulted by a priest on about a weekly basis for five to six years. This abuse also involved physical and psychological abuse. This man, who has attempted suicide on several occasions, has alcohol abuse problems, cannot study or work and lives alone. Because the priest did not “penetrate” this boy, the maximum amount he can be awarded by the redress scheme is $50,000.
The third and final category, “exposure abuse” (level 3), is defined as not involving physical contact, including by an object. As is now recognised in family violence law and policy, for a child to witness abuse is itself also a form of violence that can have profoundly distressing and long-term impacts. A survivor of institutional abuse may have had such experiences over a period of years, but the most redress payment they can ever receive is $20,000, with, again, no provision for a “top up” to recognise contexts such as spending night after night in a dormitory bed frightened that it will be “their turn next”.
There is no correlation between, for example, level 1 of the assessment framework and a certain degree of impact on the victim, compared to level 3.
Yet the table in the assessment framework not only allocates lower fixed amounts as we descend the rows, but by implication already pre-assesses the impacts as “lesser” if it was not penetrative abuse.
The assessment framework as used by the redress scheme issupported by policy guidelines which will provide further detail and examples to assist decision makers. These guidelines, however, are not publicly available. Indeed, section 104 of the act makes it an offence for an unauthorised person to use or disclose information in the guidelines, with an associated penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
Such a highly flawed assessment framework is itself shocking and profoundly unjust. But to risk imprisonment simply by accessing a set of guidelines designed to assist monetary determinations for victims of child sex crimes, is seriously gratuitous and the stuff of autocracy.
Courageous victims of institutional child sex crimes are finally breaking decades of insidious silence imposed upon them by paedophiles and their offending institutions. For our own governments to now introduce gagging clauses in legislation supposedly designed to address the profound injustices of the past, is repugnant and inexcusable.
The national redress scheme in its current form is unjust and damaging. To once again favour the assets of wealthy institutions over and above the welfare of victims of child sex crimes, is regressive and profoundly troubling.
Dr Judy Courtin and Dr Chris Atmore are lawyers and advocates who represent victims of institutional abuse at Judy Courtin Legal
Apply now for an extension to your submission to the Joint Select Committee on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse ? Oversight of Redress Related Recommendations
Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
This article was originally incorrectly illustrated with a picture of Sydney’s Trinity Grammar School. The article was amended on 3 September 2018 to make it clear it is Melbourne’s Trinity Grammar that has joined the national redress scheme.