Australia has a sad history of institutional abuse, and this dark chapter in the country’s history left many children, now adults, with trauma. Schools, religious organisations, and other institutions were responsible for the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children in their care, and we’re only reckoning with that reality now. The issue was far greater than most realised, and the Royal Commission in to the Institutional Response to historical sexual abuse highlighted just how significant this is. 

For adult survivors of child sexual abuse, there are lifelong scars, both physical and psychological. That impact doesn’t end with them – it extends to their families and beyond. Victims deserve acknowledgment and justice for what they went through, and they deserve closure and healing. 

Understanding Legal Avenues for Survivors 

Survivors of historical childhood sexual abuse have several legal avenues open to them. The National Redress Scheme is in place for sexual abuse claims to be made against institutions, and almost all named have signed up to participate. A claim through the NRS can provide compensation, counselling and a formal apology from the responsible institution. If you don’t feel the sexual abuse compensation scheme is right for you, you can pursue an individual lawsuit, a class action case or criminal prosecution. 

An individual lawsuit can seek compensation for the emotional and physical suffering, but these are taxing emotionally, and the right legal representation is crucial. A class action allows survivors to join forces with their sexual abuse lawyers. It’s could be a more cost-effective option, and in the right case, a law firm that specialises in institutional abuse can battle one institution for many survivors. 

Criminal prosecution may also be an option. Before you make a decision, you should speak to a historical sexual abuse lawyer in Sydney. They can review your case and offer advice about which path is right for you. 

Individual Lawsuits: Bringing Perpetrators and Institutions to Justice 

An individual lawsuit is an option for survivors. The first step is to speak to a lawyer experienced in handling historical child sex abuse cases. You will need to gather any documents and records available and witness testimonies as evidence of your case, and your lawyer will outline your allegations and try to resolve your case before filing your case with the court. There will be a period of discovery before the case proceeds to further negotiations. If a settlement still cannot be reached, a judge will determine compensation at trial. 

Class Actions: Strength in Numbers 

A class action lawsuit gives you strength in numbers as multiple survivors work together to pursue legal action against an institution. It increases the likelihood of success and gives survivors equal participation access regardless of resources. It’s an efficient way to file because it streamlines the process and ensures consistency in the outcome for all participating victims of the same institution. It also adds pressure on an institution because multiple plaintiffs carry more weight; it increases the likelihood of a quick and fair settlement. 

Challenges and Complexities in Historical Abuse Cases 

When dealing with historical abuse cases and claims, there are challenges and complexities for survivors pursuing justice. Criminal prosecutions could be subject to the statute of limitations, and that depends on the state or territory. Another challenge is gathering evidence when the abuse took place several decades prior. 

Some institutions no longer operate or argue bankruptcy to shield themselves from liability. Legal battles can be expensive, many survivors have limited resources. The abuser may have passed away meaning that the claim may not be able to proceed.

Also, you should not underestimate the emotional toll of pursuing legal action. It can be triggering to relive traumatic experiences, and it can be a long battle. 

The National Redress Scheme: A Path to Compensation and Acknowledgement 

The National Redress Scheme offers survivors a clear path to compensation and acknowledgment for their experience. You should consult with a lawyer before you file your application because you only get one chance, and though an appeal is possible, it’s best to ensure your application is thorough to avoid any issues. Accepting NRS compensation also limits what legal steps you can take – barring you from making a civil claim in court, but not from pursuing criminal prosecution. 

Legal Support and Resources for Survivors 

Survivors have access to several legal support resources. You can apply for legal aid in your area if you meet the eligibility criteria. Or, you can look for support from advocacy groups like CLAN and Knowmore. CLAN is a support group for people who grew up in care, and they can assist with the legal process. Knowmore provides legal advice and support navigating the NRS. You can also work with a law firm that specialises in child sex abuse cases. 

Recent Developments and Landmark Cases 

In addition to the Royal Commission, individual states and territories are holding their own inquiries into historical child sex abuse. The Supreme Court of Queensland granted a permanent stay of proceedings in one case on the basis that the case was too historical for a trial to be fair. The alleged abuse began in 1957 and continued through 1967. Still, this may serve as a precedent for similar cases and make the journey for survivors of historical child sex abuse even more difficult. 

The Role of Advocacy and Public Awareness 

Advocacy and public awareness are key in driving accountability and legal actions. Survivors’ voices are much louder when given a clear path to pursue justice. Community awareness is an important part of the educational journey, allowing people to understand the gravity of the abuse that took place and its prevalence. 

It’s important for survivors to see public support as they demand accountability because it’s the most effective way to influence the policymakers who can take meaningful action and hold institutions to account. 

Final Thoughts 

Survivors of historical child sex abuse have many legal options at their disposal. Ultimately, the right path for you as a survivor will depend on your individual goals – whether you want monetary compensation to make up for a loss of earnings or accountability for the institution that allowed the abuse to take place. 

Whether you’re thinking about pursuing an NRS claim, individual lawsuit or joining a class action, seek legal advice first. At AJB Stevens, we have a team of experienced and compassionate lawyers who can provide you with guidance about your options and which path may be right for you.