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The haunting effects of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse often last a lifetime. There is no monetary value that could possibly truly compensate for such events. However, if you were the victim of such abuse in the past, you may be entitled to compensation to help cover the costs of having to seek care and support as well as lost earnings.

Childhood abuse icon with teacher

Our child abuse experts are caring and compassionate. We can provide a free and fully confidential review of your situation if you have been subjected to child abuse within:

  • Church or church-based organisations (including church groups such as altar boy abuse, church-run camps, Sunday schools);
  • Schools (including boarding schools);
  • State care (including foster care, orphanages, children’s homes etc);
  • Before and after-school care;
  • Child care centres;
  • Youth Detention Centres;
  • Missions;
  • Sporting clubs and organisations providing activities/care for children such as Scouts;
  • Hospitals;
  • Training farms;
  • Welfare Services;
  • Youth Centres; or
  • any other institution or organisation

Most common forms of historical child abuse

Historical child abuse can occur in many ways, but some commonly seen examples include those involving:

  • Sexual violence
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual assault
  • Exposure or exhibitionism
  • Physical abuse
  • Voyeurism
  • Molestation

Who are child abuse civil compensation claims made against?

A claim for compensation involving child sex abuse, serious injuries, or other forms of child abuse can be made directly against the perpetrator themselves. Whether or not that is a worthwhile exercise will depend largely on the financial position of that person.  

More commonly, abuse claims are made against the organisation or institution responsible for introducing the victim to the perpetrator.

Get confidential and caring advice on childhood abuse compensation claims 

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Will I have to face my abuser again?

As abuse claims are more commonly brought against institutions then it is incredibly rare for you to have to face your abuser.

If the claim is made directly against the abuser, then they will need to be involved in the claim.  

At no stage do you need to say or interact in any way with that person. Your abuse compensation lawyer can handle all communications and dealings on your behalf.

Will I have to give evidence in court?

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As the vast majority of claims settle out of court it is highly unlikely that you will have to give evidence in court.

Information you need to give:

Initially, you will have to share details of your experience with one of our team members who are understanding, patient, and empathetic.  

We need to understand what occurred to help give you the best advice. You will not be interrogated. You will be provided with a safe space to share your experience.

Will I go to Court?:

Only a very small percentage of claims go to trial.  In our experience, institutions want to avoid proceeding to court and will generally settle claims well before then.  

If a trial did become necessary, then you would need to give evidence of what occurred as part of the trial process.  Again, it only reaches that stage on very rare occasions.  There are many opportunities to negotiate a settlement before then.

What type of claim can I make for sexual assault or child abuse?

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In Queensland, if the sexual assault or abuse took place when a person was a child there are two types of claims you can make:

  1. a civil abuse compensation claim (also called a common law damages claim); or
  2. a National Redress Scheme claim.

Each claim is different. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. We give further details of that below.

You should seek advice from an expert abuse compensation lawyer to understand which process is best for you.

What is a civil abuse compensation claim and what can I claim?

A civil claim for abuse compensation involves making a legal claim (called a common law claim) against the perpetrator of the abuse and/or the institution, government body, or organisation that introduced you to them.   

Proof:

You need to prove that the events occurred and that you suffered a physical or mental health injury as a result of that. 

In a civil child abuse compensation claim, the institution will only be found responsible if you can show:

  1. that you’re suffering resulted from the institution’s actions or from their failure to take appropriate steps to prevent ongoing misconduct; and
  2. that they knew of or should have been aware of the misconduct. 

Type of Compensation:

If you commence a civil claim, in Queensland, you will usually be able to make a claim for damages for:

  • the pain and suffering you endured;
  • the loss of past and future earnings you experienced due to the abuse;
  • reimbursement for any treatment costs you have paid for; 
  • any future treatment costs that might be incurred; and
  • any other expenses you have or will incur in the future.

Redress Payments:

You will not be able to commence a civil claim for damages if you have already accepted a Redress payment (under the National Redress Scheme).

It is important that you carefully consider your options and get legal advice when deciding whether to apply to the scheme or commence a civil claim.

How much compensation for sexually abused victims?

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The amount of compensation you will be entitled to varies from person to person.  It is calculated on the impact the child sexual abuse has had on you and how it is has altered the course of your life.

Compensation Settlement Payment:

If you accept payment through a settlement (rather than a court verdict) then the amount you receive will:

  • be a lump sum payment (one figure that isn’t broken into categories);
  • likely reflect the risks involved with litigation.  The riskier the claim the more of a discount will apply to arrive at the lump sum payment; and
  • be a ‘once and for all’ payment (that means you cannot seek compensation again at a later time of the same events against that party). 

Categories of Sexual Abuse Compensation:

The compensation (or damages) amount that can be claimed in a civil abuse claim is assessed based on:

  • the type of physical or mental injury you suffered and how severe it is;
  • how much income you have already lost (because of being unable to work or missing out on opportunities because it affected your education or ability to advance your career);
  • the extent to which your future working life will be affected;
  • the costs you have incurred for treatment or other expenses; and
  • the level of costs you will incur in the future.

The level of compensation will vary in every case, depending on the long-term consequences to the individual.

Sexual Abuse Compensation Payout Examples:

Some examples of legal decisions in Queensland are:

  • P v R [2010] QSC 139 – the court awarded $439,937.09 to a 21 year old woman who was sexually assaulted when she was 8 years of age.
  • K v G [2010] QSC 13 – the court awarded $629,855 to a 22 year old woman who was sexually assaulted through an unlawful sexual relationship as a minor from the age of 8.
  • Paten v Bale [1999] QSC 317 – the court awarded $183,282 to a 20 year old woman who was sexually assaulted between the ages of 7 to 9.
  • Ap v Di Pino (No 2) [2012] QDC– the court maintained an earlier decision to award a woman aged 22  $146,027.83 who was sexually assaulted as a 12 year old.
  • BDT v BDG [2019] QDC 74 – the court awarded a 52 year old woman $972,812 who was sexually assaulted between the ages of 5 to 15.

Every case and outcome is different.  You should seek advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer to understand what level of compensation may be available to you in a civil child sexual abuse compensation claim.      

How long does the civil abuse compensation process take?

How long does claim take icon

It generally takes between 12-14 months for a civil child sexual abuse compensation claim to reach the stage where meaningful negotiations such as a settlement conference can occur.

Relevant factors:

Some of the things which can slow the case down (because of the complexities involved) are:

  • having multiple perpetrators involved;
  • having multiple institutions involved;
  • whether or not there is a known history of prior incidents involving other victims (or whether your claim is the first of its kind);
  • difficulties sourcing documents to prove enrolment or attendance at institutions (although the institutions themselves usually have records);
  • difficulties establishing an educational or work history and earnings; or
  • sourcing the best expert (many of whom have lengthy waiting lists for consults).

On the other hand, the fewer complexities involved the faster the claim will usually be.

Steps in a sexual abuse claim:

If a settlement cannot be reached at this point, then legal proceedings are filed.  It typically takes about another 4-6 months to reach the next negotiation point (which is often a mediation).  

Only a small percentage of cases don’t settle at that point and then ultimately go to a trial.

Fast-tracked claims:

There are circumstances where a claim can be fast-tracked such as where someone is suffering from a terminal illness and does not have long to live or if there are other reasons for urgency.

Can I make a child sexual abuse claim against an Institution, Religious Organisation or School?

Icon of church for child abuse claims

Yes. It is possible to make a civil abuse compensation claim against an institution, a church, religious organisation, or school.

There are essentially two ways in which the institution can be found responsible:

Failure to Act:

If the institution knew about your abuse (or the abuse of others) or should have known about the abuse (through complaints being made previously or otherwise) then a successful claim could be pursued against the institution for their failure to act appropriately and prevent the abuse.

Responsibility for the Abuser’s Actions:

Generally, the law does not hold an institution responsible for the criminal acts of others.

There have been some further developments in this area of the law though, particularly where historical child sexual abuse has taken place.

Where the perpetrator committed the abuse through their position in their work (for example youth detention guards, teachers, headmasters, tutors, and child carers, and so on) or as representatives of a church or religious groups (such as priests, pastors, church volunteers) or on behalf of anyone else then those institutions or organisations could be held responsible for the actions of their employees or volunteers.

Legally, it is not normally enough that the abuser held such a position. To be able to make the institution responsible you need to establish that:

  • the abuse occurred while the abuser was acting in their position for the institution;
  • that the institution gave the abuser a special role which enabled them to have a degree of
    • power
    • control
    • trust
    • ability and opportunity to achieve intimacy with you
  • that the abuser misused their powers in carrying out their abuse.

If you were sexually abused and the abuse occurred through a person connected with an institution in the ways described above, then the institution could then be found to be legally responsible (the legal term is ‘vicariously liable’) for the conduct of the abuser (irrespective of whether they had actual knowledge of the conduct).

What is the process for a civil compensation abuse claim?

Usually, the best place to start is to speak with an experienced compensation lawyer to help provide you with the guidance you need.

Child abuse claims process icon

Pre-Claim Regime:

In Queensland, claims are regulated by the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002. It sets up a procedure for parties to follow before legal proceedings can start.

Step 1 - Claim Form:

The first step in an abuse claim is for a claim form to be served on the perpetrator of the abuse and/or the responsible institution, church or religious organisation, or school (whichever is relevant to your circumstances).   Often claims proceed only against the relevant institution.  You make the choice of who will be involved.

Step 2 - Other Party Responds:

The other parties then respond, and the claim begins.  The parties then have time to investigate matters further (the people you serve the claim form with have six (6) months to either admit or deny responsibility).   

Step 3 - Expert Evidence:

Medical evidence (in the form of reports from specialists) is then typically obtained by both parties. The victim obtains their own evidence, and the other party then has an entitlement to ask you to undergo an examination with their preferred specialists.

Step 4 - Exchange of Documents

Relevant documents concerning your background, enrolment, or dealings with the institution (where relevant), material relevant to the institutions’ actions, and documents concerning their education and work history are then exchanged.

Step 5 - Settlement Negotiations

Once those steps are undertaken a settlement conference is held.  It is a meeting between the parties and their legal representatives. 

You do not have to say anything at that meeting.  Your lawyers will represent you.

But you do need to be there.  Confidential discussions and negotiations then take place to determine if the claim can be resolved. 

If an agreement can be reached, then your claim ends with a lump sum payment being made.

If no agreement can be reached, then the claim continues with formal legal proceedings filed with the court only at that stage.

Once the legal claim has started there are other steps that need to be taken and opportunities arise to explore a possible settlement of the claim (through mediation or by exchanging written offers of settlement).

Are there any time limits in a child sexual abuse claim?

Sand time green icon to represent time limits for PTSD compensation claims

In civil claims for abuse compensation (common law damages claims) in Queensland, there is no time limit for making an abuse claim in circumstances where:

  • the person was abused when they were a child; and
  • the abuse involved either sexual abuse or serious physical abuse.

This means that survivors of that type of historical child abuse can make a claim at any time.

While no time limit exists, historical claim information or evidence may be lost, forgotten, or eroded over time. So it is still important to get expert legal advice as soon as possible to help assess and investigate the circumstances of your claim.

Physical Abuse of a Child

If the person was subjected to abuse as a child but it could not be classified as sexual abuse or serious physical abuse a claim could still be made but in most circumstances, the legal claim would need to be filed with court before the person’s twenty-first (21st) birthday or their rights could be lost. 

Abuse of an Adult:

If you were subjected to abuse (either sexually or physically) as an adult then the usual three (3) year limitation period applies.

A formal claim needs to be lodged with the court within three years of the assault or you may lose all rights.

Extensions to Time Limits:

There can be exceptions or extensions in some circumstances, so it’s important to get advice from experienced compensation lawyers as soon as you.

Frequently Answered Questions

What do I need to prove in a child sexual abuse claim?

There are a number of things you need to prove to succeed in a civil child sexual abuse claim:

What should I do
  1. That the abuse occurred;
  2. Details of the perpetrator (their name or the position they held);
  3. That an institution introduced you to the perpetrator and that the abuser’s position in a special role gave them authority, power, trust, control, and importantly an ability to achieve intimacy with you (for claims against institutions); and
  4. You suffered mental or physical harm as a result of the abuse.

Our abuse compensation lawyers can help you gather the evidence needed.

Proving the Events

To be able to succeed in a civil abuse compensation claim you need to prove that the relevant events occurred.  That happens by you giving your version of events. 

If there are witnesses who can confirm what occurred then that is helpful (but not necessary).

The system is sympathetic to the obvious challenges that arise in situations of abuse and the difficulty in having independent witnesses or other evidence available.        

Complaints Made by You or Others:

In claims involving institutions, if there are others who can verify any complaints you or others may have made earlier about the misconduct of the abuser then that can be relevant too.  But it is not essential.

Position of the Perpetrator:

You also need to prove the perpetrator of the abuse was employed (or otherwise held a position of power) on behalf of an institution or organisation if a claim against the institution is being made.

Responsibility of the Institution:  

If you can show, through the evidence of others, that the institution or organisation knew or should have known about the perpetrator’s conduct then that goes a long way to establishing a case against the institution or organisation. 

You might also be able to bring a successful claim based on the fact that the institution or organisation was responsible for the actions of the abuser (ie they were vicariously liable) if:

  • the abuse came about when they were acting in that role as an employee or volunteer;
  • the position they had placed them in a special role which gave them power, control, and trust over you and an ability to achieve intimacy with you; and 
  • the abuser misused the powers they had been given to enable them to carry out the abuse.

Consequences of Abuse:

Once fault has been established, other important matters you then need to prove include:

  • the extent of your physical or mental injuries – through expert medical reports.
  • your financial losses – by identifying the way in which your career would have likely developed (if you weren’t burdened by your physical injuries or mental illness) and the likely level of earnings you would have achieved. 
  • the medical and other expenses you have and will incur. 

It’s important to gather as much supporting evidence as possible to be able to put yourself in a strong position for negotiations in the compensation claim.

What if my abuser was not convicted, can I still claim?

If the abuser was not charged or convicted, you can still make a claim for compensation.  A conviction is not necessary.

Different Systems:

While any criminal outcome can assist, the lack of a charge or conviction does not mean and does not prove that the abuse did not occur.

The criminal system and the civil system (where compensation claims are dealt with) are very different.  

Level of Proof:

In an abuse compensation claim, you will only need to show that it is ‘more likely than not’ that the abuse occurred (you do not have to prove anything ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’) and that the institution knew or should have known about it. 

What happens if I have already settled an abuse claim cheaply?

If you have already lodged an abuse claim against the institution where you were abused and you settled the claim cheaply you might still be able to bring a further claim.   

Unhappy face icon for unwanted conversation

The law in Queensland allows a victim of child abuse who has already settled a claim in the past to ‘set aside’ (or unwind) the previous settlement if it is ‘just and reasonable’ to do so.

The real challenge is establishing what ‘just and reasonable’ circumstances are.

Case Example:

John was abused in a youth detention centre by a guard in 1980 when he was 12.

John brought a claim against the government (it controlled the detention centre) in 2005.  He was 27 years of age at that point. 

The normal limitation period would have expired for John when he was 21 years of age and that would normally rule out a claim unless special circumstances existed.  That created a difficulty for John with his claim stopped.

John engaged experienced lawyers to help him.  

The law at the time also meant it was more difficult to hold institutions and employers responsible for the criminal conduct of their staff.  But the law has since developed more favourably for victims of abuse. If John had brought a claim now this claim would be stronger.  

Because of the legal challenges that existed at the time, John settled his claim cheaply.  He now wants to bring a claim for proper compensation. 

Answer: It will be difficult for John to re-open his case unless he can show there was some element of unfairness about the settlement.  Because he was legally represented it makes it difficult to argue the unfairness element. 

These facts are similar to what occurred in a recent Queensland Supreme Court case.  The court ruled that the fact the law had developed over time to become more favourable for victims wasn’t enough. 

John would probably fail to successfully reopen his case.

Other Considerations:

If John were able to show that his case was settled cheaply for some other reason (eg the time limit issue was raised as a big issue or if John took a settlement payout himself without any legal representation) then he would have a much better chance of arguing he should be permitted to re-open his case and to seek the additional compensation he deserves. 

Important Factors:

If you have already settled a claim with an institution in any of the following circumstances, then you will have a stronger chance of being able to bring a new claim and seek additional compensation:

  • you settled a claim without getting legal assistance;
  • the institution argued you were out of time to make a claim and gave you a small payment because of that;
  • you were placed under unfair pressure by the institution at the time;
  • there were other circumstances that meant the settlement you took was an unfair one.

This can be a complex issue.  It is strongly recommended you seek legal advice to consider your legal options from experienced abuse lawyers.

What is an institution?

For child sexual abuse claims an institution is a group or organisation that is set up:

School icon to show institutions for abuse
  • by the government;
  • for a religion;
  • to run a business;
  • for teaching and learning;
  • for a social activity; and/or
  • for sporting activities.

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse can include:

  • sex of any kind at all with a child;
  • sexual touching of any body part (whether with or without clothes);
  • showing a child sexual acts; or
  • making a child act out sexual acts.

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