CHILD SEX ABUSE SURVIVORS: YOUR RIGHTS
– By Andrew Carpenter –
Child sexual abuse can have a lifelong devastating impact. The psychological and physical trauma is unimaginable, but there’s also the impact of being involved in the whole legal process if a survivor decides to take action.
This was the experience of one survivor when the High Court of Australia recently ruled that he could not take further legal action after accepting a settlement offer. It highlights the importance of seeking legal advice as soon as you become aware of your rights and having the support you need to get through the process.
The man was a boarder at Prince Alfred College in 1962. On many occasions, he was sexually abused by the housemaster who was an employee of the College. Even into adulthood, the man suffered from psychological injuries because of the abuse.
Rather than suing the College, in 1997 the man accepted its offer to pay his medical and legal fees, as well as his son’s school fees. (The man had also commenced a case against the housemaster which settled in 1999.)
Unfortunately, the man’s psychological state did not improve and in 2004 and 2005 he again approached the College for financial assistance. The College refused. In 2005, the man’s psychologist confirmed that he could no longer work full-time.
The man commenced legal action against the College in 2008, saying that it had a duty of care to him and that as the employer of the housemaster, it was liable for his actions.
The problem was that the legal action was launched 46 years after the abuse took place. Under South Australian law, there is a time limit of 3 years to take legal action, or, if the survivor is a child, they have until their 21st birthday.
The first judge refused to extend time to allow the case to proceed because there would be significant prejudice to the College. Important witnesses either couldn’t be located or had died. Documents had been lost. The man appealed and the appeal court allowed the extension of time.
The College then appealed the case to the High Court which found that there should not have been an extension of time. Even though special consideration was given to the housemaster’s special role of authority, power, trust, control over and closeness to the man, so much time had passed that the College couldn’t properly defend the case. The lack of documents and witnesses made that impossible.
What it means
This case is important for a few reasons. Because there is no higher court in Australia, a decision from the High Court becomes a powerful precedent for all future cases. There is no right of appeal from its decision.
Things became difficult for the man when he accepted the College’s offer to pay his medical and legal expenses. The problem was, at that stage the man didn’t know how much worse things would get. And they got a whole lot worse for him because he was subsequently declared unfit for full-time work.
This really highlights why having a lawyer is vital. Through broad experience and knowledge of case law and legislation, lawyers can anticipate difficulties that may later arise, or set up contingencies to cater for the unexpected.
Sometimes, people don’t realise that agreeing to a settlement of this type can end all of their rights to take legal action in the future. This can really have a negative effect, as can be seen in this case. It is crucial to get legal advice about settlement offers before agreeing to them.
The other issue that the legal action was commenced after the limitation period had expired.
This can be a common problem for survivors of child sexual abuse because statistics show that often they delay disclosing the abuse or taking legal action for 20 years or more after the abuse occurred.
Barriers to disclosing abuse include:
- Fear of not being believed.
- Not being sure who to trust.
- Not being confident that anything will be done.
- Fear that they will be blamed.
- Fear that their families will be upset.
- Fear of being stigmatised.
As one survivor recently remarked,
Silence is golden – you can’t get into trouble if you don’t say anything.
There is a huge gulf between these statistics and the legal time period to take action. It is likely that many people who take legal action would have to make a similar application for extension of time for their case to be heard.
And even when the abuse has been established, that may not be enough to support the survivor’s case if so much time has passed that evidence can’t be found.
This is why it is essential to get legal advice, especially if the abuse occurred years ago. As every case is different, it may well be that your case will succeed even though this case did not. Or, if obtaining an extension of time seems difficult, a lawyer may be able to negotiate a settlement on your behalf.
Websters Lawyers has an excellent track record of assisting survivors of child sexual abuse with their legal claims which can be an important step in the healing process. Contact us today for a free first interview. We’re here to help.
FREE FIRST INTERVIEW
NO WIN NO FEE*
LOCAL LAWYERS FOR LOCAL NEEDS
GET THE RIGHT LAWYER FIRST
Having such a short time frame I was very impressed with the outcome made by [my solicitor]. Excellent and timely manner
Very professional mannerism and overall great outcome was delivered by Websters Lawyers.
West Ryde NSW
Helpful, explained fully, patient, excellent service.
Patient and helpful in explaining the process.
Call Websters Lawyers for a most professional and friendly service. All understanding with [my solicitors] and the reception staff. Thank you so much.
Making my will was effortless on my part, with everything explained clearly. Well done to all.
Great service, professional, explains things clearly, definitely recommend Websters Lawyers.
Patient, professional, good communication about procedures and probable outcomes.
Thank you for all your work over the course of the case. You [both] were always very approachable and I appreciated your understanding and professionalism in all areas.
All in all my experience was great. Thank you for your time and expertise.
My matter was dealt with efficiently and was explained in an understandable language. A pleasant experience.
Practical and very helpful. Reasons and explanations given where needed
I stumbled across Websters in the Yellow Pages and I rang, explained my situation and immediately they took my case on. Greatly appreciate their services.
The service from Websters Lawyers was outstanding. [My solicitor] was caring, had patience and was very professional. Wonderful personality.
[My solicitor] made everything so simple to understand. [The receptionist] was wicked too, would recommend them anytime. Level of entire service was outstanding.
I had dealings with Websters over 20 years ago. They were my first choice when I recently needed legal advice. Both legal and office staff were professional, courteous and accessible at all times. Everything was explained up front in a clear and concise manner. I would not hesitate to recommend their services.
It has truly been a pleasure communicating with you throughout the process. I really appreciate your patient and speedy replies to my questions and requests. You were always able to provide an easily understood response and this helped me deal with the process. Your friendly and positive manner encouraged me to seek your advice.
Battery Hill QLD
[My lawyer's] service was prompt and efficient with all questions explained clearly with all our requests carried out within the laws. Overall service was very satisfactory.
[My lawyer] was excellent.
Excellent service. Professional. Clear advice and instructions. Prompt actions. Overall 10/10!
Overall, I was happy with my outcome and my lawyer, would definitely recommend [my lawyer].
[My solicitor] was excellent at helping us through preparing our wills which were particularly challenging as they involved assets in multiple countries. She was professional and knowledgeable and spent time tailoring the wills to our needs.
[My solicitor] was very helpful, respectful and polite. She made sure I understood the process and documentation of our wills.
Professional. Smooth Transaction.
I found the whole experience from Receptionist to Solicitor excellent. They completely put us at our ease.
This was a new experience for us and didn’t have a clue what to do. [Our solicitor] on our first visit put us at ease, explained what will happen, pointed out there was a strong case. [Our solicitor] was genuine in her approach, kept us well informed, explained actions several times with patience and understanding. Overall very happy with the service we received.
[My lawyer] was very reassuring in her approach to my case. I felt that every possibility in terms of evidence to provide and possible outcomes were explained to me, The result of the case was the best possible outcome I could have expected.
With no previous dealing with the criminal justice system, [our solicitor] gave us excellent advice and guided us through a nightmare to achieve a just and correct outcome. [Our lawyer] was both forthright and compassionate in her handling of our case.
[My lawyer] explained all the legal terms in language I could understand – she was very easy to talk to.
Cameron, Munno Para
I felt confident knowing my matter was in good hands. Very professional!
Shravan, Christie Downs
Initial phone call was fantastic and the role of an executor was fully explained.
Penny, Henley Beach
The service I received was efficient and promptly finalised. The solicitor clearly explained the details and I was happy with how easy it was.
Dale, Fairview Park
[My lawyer] was exactly the lawyer I needed in a serious matter. The outcome was as predicted which was a fantastic result. I received prompt professional and personal service at all times. Capable and supportive in a very stressful period.
Jason, Munno Para West
I had any of my concerns answered to my satisfaction and understanding.
Valda, Ingle Farm
[My lawyer] is an excellent professional lawyer who assisted in achieving a great positive outcome/result. I sincerely thank you and your great staff for your assistance and guidance throughout my claim. Would highly recommend [my lawyer], staff and Websters Lawyers. Kept fully informed and guided, professionally throughout the matter.
Our work was dealt with very efficiently and speedily. Our lawyer was very professional, at the same time as being approachable. Communication was great.
My experience with Websters Lawyers was far beyond what I expected. From the moment I spoke to [my lawyer] she made me feel very comfortable and eased my stress. In my case I had a court appearance the day before we were scheduled to fly to Spain, Considering my first appointment with her was only 2 weeks before the court hearing, she was able to obtain the police statement and thoroughly work on my case within that limited time frame. She was very knowledgeable, understanding and confident which greatly relieved so much pressure from me and my family. At court, she explained everything thoroughly and advised me of all the possible outcomes. Price, service and result, very highly recommended. Thank you Websters Lawyers.
Rafael, Davoren Park
I have high expectations and they were met. Websters service was swift, courteous, professional and met the agreed budget. I will recommend Websters to my family, friends and colleagues. Thank you.
I would recommend Websters Lawyers, especially for [my lawyer's] dedication and exemplary attitude and advice. She is the epitome of a good lawyer. The service was impeccable.
Pamela, West Lakes
[My lawyer] was very professional and I was made comfortable to understand.
I was very pleased with the end result and how well [my lawyer] conducted herself.
Jesse, Morphett Vale
[My lawyer] has been very prompt , reliable and provided a high level of communication.
My experience at Websters was very positive. The stress was taken from me and I could not be happier with the outcome. [My lawyer] at Websters was professional, personable, available and caring. Thank you for making the experience stress free.
Magda, Holden Hill
Found my lawyer upfront and reliable – I would highly recommend Websters Lawyers.
Lee, Evanston Park
Top bunch of solicitors and admin staff. Very friendly and to the point service.
Bradley, Hallett Cove
Websters Lawyers were very professional in their service, I would be happy to recommend them.
Carole, Tea Tree Gully
We would not hesitate in recommending Websters for any legal matter. They are professional and courteous at all times and call back when they say they will.
David and Dianne, Lockleys
I fully recommend Websters Lawyers. This was the 3rd time myself & my family have used Websters Lawyers. In these stressful times we have found them to answer and guide us through the process needed to accomplish the legal requirements in a timely and courteous manner.
Solid, to the point, no hustle. Highly recommend.
George, Windsor Gardens