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Silenced abuse victims in Victoria given a chance to speak


Written by:
Nina Kaarsberg
Associate, Practice Lead

I can’t introduce you to my client. He signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2003, which swore him to silence.

He’s amongst hundreds of victims of abuse who have unwittingly signed off on their right to share their stories of survival. Since 1996, many survivors of abuse were muted by signing a Deed of Release, which formed part of the Catholic Church’s answer to addressing the rising number of abuse cases. Their answer, of course, was to minimise public knowledge of the issue, pay a small sum and to provide a confidentiality agreement that kept victims quiet forever.

It had nothing to do with the victims and everything to do with protecting the reputation of the Catholic Church.

The Melbourne Response

The Melbourne Response was created by Cardinal George Pell and while we are finally addressing the wrongdoing of the church, there is an obvious gap where The Melbourne Response is concerned, particularly considering Pell’s recent conviction.

Imagine being abused by the nation’s most notorious paedophiles and having to take that secret with you to the grave? Secrets like these take the lives of survivors who become bound by a document that was designed to protect criminals. Hardly fair.

I can’t tell you the name of my client but I can tell you what he has been through.

I can tell you about how he was sexually abused by a school chaplain when he was around eight years old. I can tell you he was an altar boy.

I can tell you that a young boy who used his voice every Sunday, can’t use it anymore.

I can tell you he was sexually abused for two years, at a time that most of us were still playing with dolls and firetrucks. I can tell you it irreparably damaged him.

I can tell you that that paedophile priest, the perpetrator of his abuse, robbed my client of his innocence and of any chance of ever amounting to the person he was supposed to be.

I can tell you my client sought help. He sought redress.

I can tell you, the solution available to him, left him short-changed.

When he applied for redress, he was clinically diagnosed with mental health issues. He was assessed by a psychiatrist commissioned by the Melbourne Response who diagnosed him with a major mental illness and, at the time, the psychiatrist noted the severity of his psychological trauma.

The Royal Commission has been instrumental in educating the nation on the importance of not re-traumatising victims of abuse by making them recount every horrific detail of their experience. Those findings didn’t exist when my client made his claim.

He recounted and recounted, retold and retold from psychologists to lawyers to panels of priests, who we now know were part of the problem.

He was assessed by lawyers hired to contain the Catholic Church abuse epidemic and these same people offered a vulnerable mentally ill person an insignificant amount of compensation. He did not have any legal representation. He was not advised of his right to legal support. The only legal advice he received came from the lawyers who were employed to work for the Melbourne Response team.

There in a room, under duress, a man, who was clinically diagnosed was forced to sign a Deed of Release to protect a paedophile.

Somehow, his mental health was not considered when he was forced to sign. Somehow, a future need to purge himself of this poisonous memory was ignored. Somehow his wellbeing was disregarded once more. Somehow, the Catholic Church got away with this too. He’s one of many voices contained against the competing priority of protecting paedophiles.

With the knowledge we have gathered, we now recognise that the survivors of abuse who received compensation through the Melbourne Response are disadvantaged and left in a worse position than if they hadn’t signed a Deed of Release.

A new chance for victims

Last week, the Victorian Government announced it will amend legislation to allow victims of abuse who are silenced through their participation in the Melbourne Response to have the Deed of Release overturned in court. We support and encourage this change. This will provide the opportunity for victims to pursue adequate compensation to which they are entitled for the wrongs they have suffered.

Our client deserves a voice and an opportunity to tell his story.

Paedophiles do not deserve his silence.

Shine Lawyers

At Shine Lawyers, we have a team of carefully selected abuse lawyers who collectively possess over 90 years of experience handling abuse law matters. Standing as a voice for their brave clients, our lawyers have helped survivors of abuse across Australia access justice and acknowledgement for the wrongdoing they have suffered.

Click here for more information on the work of Shine Lawyers' abuse law team.

Written by Nina Kaarsberg. Last modified: June 17, 2019.

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