Justice delayed is justice denied: Confusing and inconsistent institutional abuse laws in Australia causing further pain for abuse survivors

Kate Ross

Kate Ross

Head of Abuse Claims

Every day there seems to be a new report in the media about institutional abuse. While many of these reports are about historical child sexual abuse, they also share stories of recent and widespread serious physical and psychological abuses. New inquiries by Commonwealth and state and territory governments continue to uncover shocking breaches by previously trusted institutions.

What do we mean when we say ‘institutions’?

  • Religious and faith-based organisations
  • Youth services and facilities
  • Commonwealth and state government services, including child services, detention and health providers
  • Healthcare providers
  • Public and private schools, including early childhood education and care
  • Sporting and recreational clubs and associations

You would assume the process to find justice would be certain and straightforward for those survivors breaking their silence in sharing experiences of historical and recent incidents of abuse. Sadly, this is not the case.

This is because there is a complex web of different laws and frameworks across various levels of government and courts of law that have made this process confusing. The National Redress Scheme, established by the Australian Government to recognise, support and assist abuse survivors, is an important step but does have some key shortcomings. Accessing the National Redress Scheme may not be your only option, and it may not be your best option.

Limitation periods have been abolished in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria to allow survivors to seek compensation in relation to sexual, physical and psychological abuse. However, other states and territories have only abolished limitation periods for some forms of abuse – not all. The lack of consistency across the states and territories is unsatisfactory. Some see this lack of consistency as a way for institutions to escape responsibility for some of the worst abuses of children, simply due to where on the map the abuse took place.

Survivors of childhood abuse are among the most vulnerable in our communities. Although some progress has been made in recent times, it is disappointing that our legal system continues to make it difficult to hold institutions accountable for knowing about the abuse and for allowing the abuse to continue.

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