Child-sex vic­tims shun plan for compo

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - JOHN FER­GU­SON AS­SO­CIATE ED­I­TOR

In­sti­tu­tions re­spon­si­ble for child­sex abuse are fac­ing a new wave of civil le­gal ac­tion as lawyers ad­vise many vic­tims to shun the $4 bil­lion na­tional re­dress scheme.

Modest pay­ments of $5000 for some abuse vic­tims and a cap of $150,000 for the worst of­fend­ing un­der the new fund­ing for­mula are be­ing blamed for the re­luc­tance to use the na­tional scheme.

Churches also are con­cerned that ag­gres­sive tactics by some lawyers will ex­pose parishes to hav­ing to fund even greater costs through as­set sales and bud­get cuts.

The Week­end Aus­tralian can re­veal that the churches and other bodies are con­fronting pock­ets of deep, early re­sis­tance to the re­dress scheme as vic­tims strug­gle with a sys­tem that rates pay­ments ac­cord­ing to whether there was pen­e­tra­tive sex, contact abuse or ex­po­sure.

The scheme has been capped $50,000 be­low the royal com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion, and lawyers are telling some vic­tims they could qual­ify for pay­ments worth hun­dreds of thou­sands of dollars if their case was strong enough and the vic­tim could with­stand the pres­sures of the court sys­tem.

There also is the op­tion of pur­su­ing a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment that pre­vents vic­tims be­ing re­trau­ma­tised by go­ing through the courts but re­ceiv­ing more than the max­i­mum $150,000.

Vic­to­rian lawyer In­grid Ir­win, said civil ac­tion, rather than the re­dress scheme, was the best way to en­sure there was full com­pen­sa­tion for life­long in­jury. “That’s when you are re­ally go­ing to get a closer re­flec­tion of what re­dress should be,’’ she said. “You can’t grade abuse — it is not a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion. This just cre­ates di­vi­sions within the sur­vivor com­mu­nity.’’

Peter Kelso, a NSW abuse com­pen­sa­tion lawyer, said it was es­sen­tial vic­tims re­ceived ex­pert ad­vice be­fore sign­ing up to the re­dress scheme. “There’s al­ways been the op­tion to go civil. They can’t take away your right to go to court,’’ he said.

The re­dress scheme, which has started pro­cess­ing pay­ments to 1400 ap­pli­cants, has been widely crit­i­cised by vic­tim groups, which ac­cuse the govern­ment of back­ing a sys­tem mod­elled in part on the first-gen­er­a­tion Catholic funds set up to com­pen­sate for abuse.

The churches are con­cerned that a con­certed push for civil ac­tion was lead­ing to ag­gres­sive tactics by abuse lawyers that in­clude com­pen­sa­tion for loss of earn­ings caused by the abuse.

The re­dress scheme does have ad­van­tages for some vic­tims be­cause it has a lower bur­den of proof and lim­its the ex­po­sure of vic­tims to a long-run­ning court bat­tle and the risk of los­ing with heavy le­gal costs.

The De­part­ment of So­cial Ser­vices said the first pay­ments had been made and the scouts and YMCA were among the first to sign up. The Catholic, Angli­can and Unit­ing churches all plan to sign up.

Vic­to­rian abuse lawyer Viv Waller said her firm had “pretty grave con­cerns’’ about the re­dress scheme and that the fed­eral op­tion had lim­ited value. Dr Waller said there was too lit­tle em­pha­sis in the re­dress scheme for on­go­ing psy­chi­atric care and there were ex­am­ples of sig­nif­i­cant civil pay­ments well above the amounts likely to be handed out via the re­dress scheme.

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