Through the Redress Scheme, those who have been sexually abused in Australian institutions now have the opportunity to obtain financial compensation, counselling and a personal apology for the horror they endured. But don’t for one minute think it will be an easy process.
On 14 September 2015 the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its Redress and Civil Litigation Report. After receiving submissions from more than 250 individuals and institutions, the 589-page report made 99 recommendations. There was an enormous financial cost to the Australian public for the Royal Commission so we should listen to what the Royal Commission had to say.
Here are some of the most significant recommendations regarding the Redress Scheme and what’s happened so far:
A national redress scheme for the estimated 60,000 likely claimants be established and commence accepting applications from survivors no later than 1 July 2017.
The Redress Scheme started on 1 July 2018, just a year late. While everyone can start the application process, my understanding is that some State legislation needs to catch up. Applications from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia can be received but they can’t yet be assessed.
The major perpetrators of institutional child sexual abuse (the Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches, Salvation Army, Scouts and YMCA) have agreed to join the scheme. However, the current lack of legislation in some States creates a loophole, so let’s hope those non-government institutions don’t use it to opt out.
The redress scheme to be independent of the offending institutions.
The applications for redress will be assessed by Independent Decision Makers, but we don’t know who they are. The Redress Scheme assures applicants that the Independent Decision Makers have no connection with participating institutions. Does this mean there will be no Catholic, Anglican or Uniting Church parishioners? No ex or current members of the Salvation Army, Scouts or the YMCA? How can the assessment process be transparent if the Independent Decision Makers are not named?
Appropriate redress for survivors would include a financial payment up to $200,000.
The payment through the National Redress Scheme has been reduced to a maximum of $150,000.
$150,000 is a paltry amount for the impact of child sexual abuse on your life. It would go nowhere near compensating Ms Forgotten Australian for her lack of ability to sustain full-time employment throughout her life, without taking into account her suffering. The average redress payment is expected to be $76,000 and many will get less than that.
Applicants may receive a greater payout if they pursue compensation through the court process but the burden of proof will be greater in the court system than through the Redress Scheme. However, the burden of engaging in the court process is likely to be more adversarial and stressful than the Redress Scheme. It’s challenging for survivors to provide the detailed particulars (time, date, location etc) often required for the court process, particularly if the child sexual abuse occurred many years ago and occurred multiple times.
The Redress Scheme is of significant benefit for the perpetrating institutions as payouts are likely to be less than through the legal process, and they won’t be tied up and financing legal processes for years.
A person should be eligible to apply to a redress scheme for redress if he or she was sexually abused as a child in an institutional context and the sexual abuse occurred, or the first incidence of the sexual abuse occurred, before the cut-off date.
That is unless you’re in prison. If you are currently incarcerated you cant apply, you can do so when you’ve been released. If you’re out of gaol, but you’ve served more than a 5-year term then probably no redress for you, unless you are able to prove how rehabilitated you are.
Now I don’t want to get into an argument about prisoners getting money but here’s what infuriates me. The Royal Commission visited 60 prisons to take statements from prisoners who had been sexually abused in institutions. They did this because there is such a clear understanding that child sexual abuse derails peoples lives to such an extent they are over-represented in the prison system.
I provided counselling to prisoners who had attended private sessions with the Royal Commission. Their accounts of the sadistic child sexual abuse perpetrated against them were horrendous. For some, the Royal Commission was the first time they had disclosed the abuse and the process of disclosing was traumatic.
Of the, 6,875 survivors and/or their family and friends who attended private sessions between May 2013 and May 2017 to share their experiences of child sexual abuse in Australian institutions, 713 (10.4 per cent) were in prison at the time of their private session.
On average, survivors in prison were aged 11.3 years when they were first sexually abused in an institutional context, though many said they experienced physical and sexual abuse prior to this, often within the family. The majority were sexually abused on multiple occasions (86.7 per cent). Most said they were sexually abused by a single person (53.7 per cent), and almost three-quarters for a duration of one year or less (71.5 per cent).
Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse: Final Report – Private Sessions
So the Redress Scheme seems to be saying to prisoners “thanks for telling us what happened to you, we know that it stuffed your life up, but too bad, no Redress for you or your family”. Surely prisoners could apply and, if successful, any payout placed in trust.
Oh… and if you’re not an Australian citizen or permanent resident you also can’t apply. So too bad if you came to Australia, went to school here, got sexually abused as a child at school and then went home! No redress for you either.
A redress scheme should rely primarily on completion of a written application form.
Sounds easy, but filling out that 44-page document is complex. Some survivors believed that their statement to the Royal Commission would have been sufficient as an application. It’s agonising to document a detailed account of child sexual abuse and then send it off to be assessed, by an unknown party. Once again survivors are placed in the role of having to prove what happened to them.
There are supports available to help people with the application process. You can access them here: Redress Support Services. I would encourage anyone completing the application to be supported by family, friends and/or the support services offered.
Counselling and psychological care should be supported through redress in accordance with the following principles:
- Counselling and psychological care should be available throughout a survivor’s life.
- Counselling and psychological care should be available on an episodic basis.
- Survivors should be allowed flexibility and choice in relation to counselling and psychological care.
- There should be no fixed limits on the counselling and psychological care provided to a survivor.
- Without limiting survivor choice, counselling and psychological care should be provided by practitioners with appropriate capabilities to work with clients with complex trauma.
- Treating practitioners should be required to conduct ongoing assessment and review to ensure treatment is necessary and effective. If those who fund counselling and psychological care through redress have concerns about services provided by a particular practitioner, they should negotiate a process of external review with that practitioner and the survivor. Any process of assessment and review should be designed to ensure it causes no harm to the survivor.
- Counselling and psychological care should be provided to a survivor’s family members if necessary for the survivor’s treatment.
New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have free counselling services as part of the redress offer. Counselling services in Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia have not yet been finalised. Applicants living where States are not offering free counselling services will receive a payment of $5,000 to cover counselling. That’s about 25 sessions throughout a lifetime. That may not be sufficient to address complex trauma.
Some final thoughts….
We now have a situation where some child abuse survivors may feel abandoned by the Redress Scheme. If you were in an institution and were viciously beaten and neglected, but not sexually abused you are now “unlucky” because you can’t access the Redress Scheme. The Royal Commission didn’t just uncover child sexual abuse, it also uncovered systemic physical and emotional abuse and neglect in institutions and yet these non sexually abused survivors have no access to the Redress Scheme.
I’m not sure the Redress Scheme sets right that which is morally wrong.
What are your thoughts regarding the Redress Scheme?