Australian legal firms are experiencing unprecedented demand from people who have suffered alleged child sexual abuse in institutions such as churches, schools and youth groups.
The demand has been spurred on by revelations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and legal reforms which allow survivors to make a claim for damages regardless of when the abuse allegedly occurred.
Child abuse Royal Commission: a look back
Painful and difficult stories in their thousands emerge from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Shine Lawyers received 61 inquiries about historical child sexual abuse in 2012, prior to the commencement of the royal commission in 2013. Last year the firm received 730 inquiries, an increase of more than 1000 per cent.
Law firm Maurice Blackburn has also experienced a surge in people exploring their legal options, with hundreds of new inquiries.
Shine Lawyers abuse law principal Lisa Flynn said the commission had created widespread public awareness about the devastating impact of abuse.
“It is an extraordinary increase which is largely due to the spotlight cast by the royal commission,” she said.
“The royal commission’s work over the past four years has really encouraged people to come forward and seek assistance. It’s been a tsunami of survivors coming forward.”
The commission held its final public hearing last week and will hand down its final report in December.
Ms Flynn said that while the long-running inquiry is wrapping up, it has left a strong legacy for survivors.
“Survivors have seen the bravery of others in coming forward and that’s given them the encouragement they need to come forward themselves,” she said.
“We know from people who have told their stories, it’s such a powerful way of seeking validation and justice.”
A number of states, including NSW, have scrapped the statute of limitations for civil action by child sexual abuse survivors, many of whom take decades to disclose.
Maurice Blackburn institutional abuse specialist Danielle De Paoli said the reform had allowed more survivors to come forward and seek justice.
“We expect this to continue, particularly given many states have now acted to ensure that archaic statutes of limitations have been removed to allow long overdue access to justice for abuse survivors,” she said.
Ms De Paoli said many defendants unnecessarily delayed redress for people who had been abused in an institution.
“Unfortunately too many organisations, including Scouts NSW and organisations of the Anglican and Catholic Churches, still continue to do the wrong thing by survivors, in spite of the significant evidence uncovered by the royal commission,” she said.
Figures released by the royal commission show the Catholic church paid $280 million in compensation to victims of alleged child sexual abuse between 1980-2015 and Anglican church dioceses have payments of just over $34 million in response to complaints over the same period.
The Federal government has announced a national redress scheme to compensate survivors to run for 10 years from 2018.
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