Op-Ed: It takes years for justice for child abuse victims. Sometimes, it never happens at all

This op-ed was originally published in The New Daily, and can be found online here

A person’s right to their “day in court” is a keystone of our democratic legal system.

It embodies the very virtues of justice and the right for all those aggrieved, to use the courts to find their remedy.

Unfortunately, for those seeking justice for crimes of historical abuse, the path is a long and protracted one.

Whether it is the 18 to 24 months it takes on average for a claim to be resolved, the reticence of institutions to constructively engage with victims, or the outrageous legal loophole found in most Australian jurisdictions that allow a survivor to be cross-examined by their abusers.

Too often the hurdles standing in the way of survivors seeking redress are many and placed at painfully short intervals.

As CEO of the nationally recognised charity and registered National Redress Scheme support service, In Good Faith Foundation (IGFF), I receive dozens of distressed calls and messages a week from clients driven to near breaking point by the trauma that interacting with the legal process can cause.

It was reported last month that there had been 6605 applications for compensation made through the National Redress Scheme, but only 1587 payments made.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston publicly acknowledged that redress payment to survivors is taking too long.

I applaud her for her honesty and sincerity. I feel that the minister is now starting to understand the frustration felt by survivors of institutional abuse across Australia for decades.

What frustrates this process further is that many survivors cannot have their applications for compensation processed, unless the institution that is the subject of the claim signs up to the National Redress Scheme.

The deadline for institutions named in the Royal Commission to sign up to the National Redress Scheme has now passed.

Six organisations named in the Royal Commission have failed to sign up leaving the applications of 55 survivors unprocessed.

Appropriately, Minister Ruston has publicly named the institutions: Australian Air League, Boys’ Brigade NSW, Fairbridge Restored Limited, Lakes Entrance Pony Club, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Kenja Communication.

The Australian Air League later committed to the scheme.

The Prime Minister and Minister Ruston have rightly been openly scathing of these institutions.

I welcome the federal government taking the necessary steps to ensure that these institutions will no longer receive public funding and flagging that they may lose their charity status.

Charities like In Good Faith Foundation will continue to provide ongoing support and advocacy for survivors, but until there is structural consistency within the legal jurisdictions across Australia – too many survivors of institutional abuse will be left behind.

A person’s journey in coming forward to call out their abuser is an incredibly courageous and difficult one.

It takes on many different routes and is a truly unique experience for each and every individual that treads this path.

What is consistent, however, is the minefield of red tape and unnecessary burden lumped on each and every individual seeking justice.

There are systemic and bureaucratic barriers that stand in the way of people trying to traverse the justice system and achieve redress.

In many respects, Australia has to lead the way in acknowledging and proving a response to institutional abuse.

Now it’s time to see that this initial groundwork is converted into a speedy resolution for people who have already experienced a lifetime of pain, in their pursuit of justice.

Clare Leaney is CEO of In Good Faith Foundation, a national charity and support service providing advocacy services to individuals, families and communities impacted by institutional abuse for over 20 years

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