Double v The Salvation Army (Victoria) Property Trust [2023] VSC 452

In the recent matter of Double v The Salvation Army (Victoria) Property Trust [2023] VSC 452, the plaintiff, Ms Cara Double, had commenced civil proceedings on 28 June 2021 in which she sought damages from the defendant, the Salvation Army (Victoria) Property Trust, as a result of psychological injuries sustained as a result of historical childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by an employee of the defendant at Brayton Youth Hostel.   

The plaintiff alleges that in or around 2002, the plaintiff was groomed and sexually abused and assaulted by an employee of the defendant over a period of around 6 months.  

The defendant denied essentially every element of the plaintiff’s case, however, the focus was upon the alleged occurrences of abuse, being the grooming and sexual assaults, which were strongly denied by the defendant. The central issues concerned the credit and reliability of the plaintiff and other witnesses and, in that regard, whether the plaintiff had discharged her onus of proving, on the balance of probabilities, that the grooming and sexual abuse had occurred.   

On 7 August 2023, the Victorian Supreme Court found in favour of the defendant, noting that it did not feel an actual persuasion as to the occurrence of the grooming and the sexual assaults, noting at [305]: 

  1. the plaintiff’s evidence is plainly affected by the lengthy passage of time, having forgotten the events seemingly for a lengthy period; 
  2. the plaintiff’s evidence is also affected by prior and subsequent trauma of a serious and sustained kind as well as her having suffered some form of altered consciousness during a significant part of the period in which the relevant events are said to have occurred; 
  3. although some general aspects of the plaintiff’s account can be accepted as either accurate or plausible, a detailed examination of the evidence reveals practically all of the sinister aspects of the plaintiff’s account to be against the weight of the evidence and therefore as being unable to be accepted; 
  4. in that connection, the evidence suggests that many of the plaintiff’s recollections of times and dates are wrong; but also, and significantly, that parts of her evidence are directed to a range of things that did not happen at the time now claimed (for example, the subsequent unit in Mooroopna and apprenticeship at La Porchetta) as well as a range of denials in respect of things that did happen (for example, the prior rape, pregnancy and abortion and the signatures on the various Brayton documents);
  5. further, the evidence of the lay witnesses called by the defendant stands firmly against the plaintiff’s account; 
  6. since she has started to report the central events, the plaintiff’s account of those events has varied in composition, and none of those versions is truly comparable to the account that she gave at trial (in anything but the most general of ways); and 
  7. the plaintiff incorrectly recalls significant aspects of Mr Nunan’s personal presentation, in circumstances that seem to me to be suggestive of the intervention of both unconsciousness (‘it might have been a dream’) or altered consciousness such as to raise the significant prospect that the relevant recollections of the plaintiff are quite faulty. 

We are specialist abuse lawyers and can help you receive acknowledgement, meaningful apology and financial resolution from those institutions and systems of power that failed to protect you from harm. If you would like advice in relation to a childhood or adult sexual, physical and/or psychological/emotional abuse claim in any jurisdiction in Australia, please reach out to the author, Emily Wright, at Littles Lawyers today. 

Further Abuse Law information and case law updates written by our Emily Wright can be found on our website.  

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