Survivors and Solicitors

Survivors of child sexual abuse, who courageously gave evidence to The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, are now torn between applying for compensation through the Redress Scheme and/or launching legal proceedings against the perpetrating organisations. Neither pathway is easy and neither has a guaranteed outcome. Historical child sexual abuse cases are notoriously difficult to win given the passage of time, lack of witnesses and the legal requirement for detailed information.  Survivors and solicitors embarking on the marathon journey into the world of trauma and legal processes need to be well prepared.

Acknowledge the legal process will trigger trauma symptoms

Female survivor alone

Applying to the Redress Scheme or undertaking legal action is likely to be distressing. Revisiting the abuse, providing statements, and arguing your case may trigger flashbacks, nightmares and other trauma symptoms.  During this time be proactive in care for yourself.

Gather a support team

  • Invite someone, other than the solicitor, to join you on the journey and be your support person.  Ask them to accompany you to appointments, read information, discuss the case with you and retain the focus in appointments when you are distressed.  Give consideration to who you would ask. Another trauma survivor may also be triggered by the process.  Perhaps there could be more than one person to assist you.
  • Inform your family and friends that the legal process is likely to be stressful and lengthy. Try and be clear about what you need e.g. “After appointments, I may be distressed, can you spend some time with me?”  “Can you come for a walk sometimes to help me manage the stress?”  “I may just need a hug or my handheld, will you be able to do that for me?”
  • Access support through a psychologist, counsellor, social worker,  or caseworker and schedule regular appointments in advance.

Commit to a rigorous self-care plan

Legal cases may go on for years and are stressful. They are indeed a marathon and not a sprint. Continue reading

Redress: the setting right of that which is morally wrong

Woman, hands to face, in despair
Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

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: Continue reading

How you can care for Forgotten Australians

Vulnerable Forgotten Australians need your care and assistance. If you work at Centrelink, the police, for an employment services provider, deliver health care, work in a hospital or an aged care facility it’s essential you understand that some Forgotten Australians have a history of abuse and neglect, which continues to impact on their lives and current needs.

Who are the Forgotten Australians?

The term Forgotten Australians was first used by the Australian Senate in its 2003–2004 report, Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care. This dismal label described a group of 500,000 children who were institutionalised between 1920 and 1970. These children grew up in State, church and charity run orphanages and homes where many of them were neglected, exploited and brutalised. The term now also refers to those who were in out-of-home care until the end of 1989. As many of these people have had families, it is highly likely that every Australian either was, or is related to, works with or knows someone who is a Forgotten Australian.

The Forgotten Australians are not a homogenous group and not all Forgotten Australians require the same level of assistance.  Some were placed in care arrangements where they were nurtured and well looked after, others, however, experienced horrendous events where they were abused repeatedly throughout their childhood. Many Forgotten Australians have raised families, completed education, had successful careers,  volunteered in the community, and own homes.  However, others remain some of our most vulnerable citizens, struggling with physical and mental health conditions and challenged to maintain accommodation, relationships and employment.

It is the vulnerable and traumatised group of Forgotten Australians that require compassionate care and support when accessing services.

How would you recognise a Forgotten Australian?

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Easing the burden by reaching out

Burden of elephant supported by balloonsClients often experience a wave of relief after their first counselling session.  Their burden is shared and they feel joined on their journey.  That old saying, a worry shared is a worry halved rings true.

Sometimes, you don’t recognise how burdened you’re feeling until the load eases, as I experienced recently.   I’d been working on Ms Forgotten Australian’s biography for over four years and had come to the end of my skills, capability, and motivation. I knew I had to do more but had no idea Continue reading

Australia’s own Spotlight? Is this finally a crisis in the Catholic Church?

Writing the biography of Ms Forgotten Australian led me into a foreign world, one of abusive Catholic clergy and the ominous power of the Catholic Church. Ms Forgotten Australian spent her childhood in the now infamous St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol. Sadly her time there included child sexual abuse by priests and systemic cover-up by the Church.

In May 2018 Archbishop Phillip Wilson was convicted of the cover-up of sexual abuse of altar boys. Priest Jim Fletcher abused the boys in the Hunter Region of New South Wales during the 1970’s. Last month Magistrate Robert Stone found Wilson guilty of concealing a serious indictable offence of another person.  This is a landmark Australian case due to the precedent it set.  The conviction Continue reading

Meeting Alice’s Daughter on Sorry Day

On Saturday Ms ForAlice's Daughter gotten Australian and I listened to Rhonda Collard Spratt, who, with Jacki Ferro has authored Alice’s Daughter: Lost Mission Child.  Rhonda is Alice’s daughter and she is a delightful raconteur. She shared stories of her life, enlivened with music, poetry, and much laughter.  Aunty Rhonda, as she is known, brings warmth and inclusiveness to a story of violence and separation.

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Silenced!

Victims voices are often silenced

Victims voices and stories

are often silenced.

A parent abuses a child, yet that same parent is also responsible for feeding and sheltering the child. Fear of retribution deftly silences the child.  No adults are seen as safe.

Condemnation and punishment await an unruly and antisocial boy, who has no words to describe his chaotic emotional world or the abuse he is experiencing. Opportunities for disclosure are lost.

A teenage girl internalises her shame, silenced by the myth of the perfect family. No one would believe what happens in her family. The self-inflicted slashes on her thighs scream her pain, but no one hears. Continue reading

Lucky Cardinal Pell

Lucky Cardinal PellCardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic leader, was committed to stand trial for historic child sexual offences last week.  He is currently on leave from his role as treasurer of the Vatican and the Holy See. The Holy See is the central governing body of the entire Roman Catholic Church and operates from within the Vatican City. The Vatican City is an independent state located on Vatican Hill in Rome.  This high-ranking position puts Cardinal Pell third in charge after the Pope – that’s a position that wields a lot of power and controls a lot of money.

After two months of deliberation, Magistrate Belinda Wallington ruled, on 1 May 2018, that Continue reading

The Birth of a Book- The story of a Forgotten Australian

I’m writing my dear friend’s biography, which has the working title of Not Forgotten.  It’s been a labour of love, but often, more like hard dull labour than passionate love. I have felt like a pregnant elephant, holding this huge story deep inside me for the longest time.  But elephants only gestate for two years, and this book has been in production for over four years.  I now know that four years is not unusual for a book.  The process seems endless – interview, research, write, get feedback from readers, edit, interview more people, write, get more feedback from readers, edit.  Repeat multiple times.  Then become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, drown in self-doubt, pick yourself up and get going again.

I blogged in 2015 for a year. The purpose was to hone my writing skills while my husband Steven and I enjoyed six restorative months away from our busy lives, travelling the world.  Those posts are still here, now mostly irrelevant, but I can’t bear to delete them.  Since then I have continued to work on Not Forgotten. Now I’m firing up the blog again to motivate me through the final stages of labour – getting it from a manuscript to publication.

Birth of a Book - The story of a Forgotten AustralianDuring the gestation period Not Forgotten has led me to thought-provoking places; the magnificent State Library of Victoria, an orphanage for critically ill children in China, a psychiatrist’s room, a rock climbing expedition and decaying buildings in Far North Queensland.  I have become the keeper of my friend’s family history, with cupboards overflowing with documents, diaries and photos of people I do not know.  My life has been enriched by the growth of a cherished friendship.

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Women’s Work is Never Done

TableRecently we went to the launch of Be Enterprise, an innovative social enterprise program of Logan Women’s Health and Wellbeing Centre. The evening combined the launch of the program with a healthy amount of fund raising. The invitation to attend had been extended to me by Liz Irvine, Chair of the Board, and since I’d had a role in her being on the board in the first place it was an offer I really couldn’t refuse.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a women focused event and it was great to step outside my normal routine. I felt recharged after the night as I listened to women with conviction and passion speak about the work they do to make a difference to women’s lives.

Shannon Fentiman MP – Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Member for Waterford reminded us that the gender pay gap is still alive and well, with woman being paid, on average, 17% less than men. I thought of a recent conversation Continue reading