Imbalance of abuse slowly redressed

The National Redress Scheme to help people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse was introduced following recommendations from the royal commission.  

It has now been operating for nearly 12 months and is considered an important step for survivors dealing not only with trauma, guilt, and shame, but overly complicated bureaucratic systems and processes. 

Robyn Miller is chief executive of MacKillop Family Services, a large national agency, and has worked her whole career with children and families affected by trauma and sexual abuse.

“The lingering effects of abuse are profound,” Dr Miller said. “The impact can last for generations. If the parents have a history of trauma it can have enormous impact with anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

MacKillop Family Services is very supportive of the National Redress Scheme and is in the process of gathering together all the historical information. It involves the properties where events and abuse took place, and correlating the times and the numbers of children who were cared for in the preceding decades.

“The redress scheme adds balance and is acknowledgment of what occurred,” said Dr Miller. “When you introduce any new system there are always learnings. It’s early days but we are aware of the challenges. Some of the survivors are aged in their 80s and 90s.”

Dr Miller relates the story of the impact on a lady who as a girl was abused in a Catholic institution, and went on to become a teacher in a Catholic school.

“She always lived an overly safe life, never taking risks,” said Dr Miller. “She carried this enormous shame all her life, and didn’t tell her husband or her family until she was in her 50s. She said it was incredibly painful.

“Healing is important. And having people who loved her was important. She’s still dealing with the grief.”

All too often victims of abuse turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.

For its part, MacKillop Family Services is focused on a good-practice, proactive approach to preventing harm to children, especially those in out-of-home care.

“We’re caring for about 700 children nationally on any one night,” said Dr Miller. “We have a commitment to prevention, we’re not just responding. As such, we’ve partnered with the University of Melbourne in a program to train staff around prevention of sexual harm, respecting the needs of children, and safety.

“We have to help children understand respectful relationships, and the concepts of grooming and consent. Children don’t know when they’re being groomed or what it means to consent.”

David Jones is an experienced personal injury lawyer, and for him, it’s not just about the redress scheme. The executive partner responsible for Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers’ Hunter region offices says offering advice around redress is all part of the firm’s commitment to the not-for-profit sector.

The initial exposure of abuse in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle was one of the factors that contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers assisted victims of abuse and those accused of abuse within several of the case studies the royal commission examined.

“I have experience working on behalf of claimants, and those entities being claimed against,” Mr Jones said. “You need to be aware of how the redress scheme operates so you can advise as to participation in the redress scheme.

“But we’re also always looking for other potential courses of action arising from abuse. It’s not just about redress. There are other things to be considered when investigating entitlements arising from abuse. But certainly potential involvement in the redress scheme is important.”

Dr Robyn Miller, chief executive of MacKillop Family Services, is the keynote speaker at the free “Not for profit charity law day” hosted by Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers at Rydges, Newcastle, on Friday, September 20. To book, RSVP or contact Belinda Boutsikakis on 02 9291 7152 before Wednesday, September 18.







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