‘Utterly disgusting and insulting’ says abuse survivor

Capping compensation payments to child sexual abuse survivors means the Catholic Church and other institutions are getting off scot-free, an inquiry has heard.

A number of abuse survivors and their advocates want the $150,000 maximum payment under the national redress scheme increased or the cap removed altogether.

The entire concept of capping payments and requiring victims to sign a deed releasing the responsible institution from further claims was “utterly disgusting and insulting”, survivor Matt Jones said.

“People need to realise that for any survivors it is about putting a price on their lives, so I say scrap the cap,” Mr Jones told a Senate inquiry.

Long-time victims’ advocate Chrissie Foster also strongly criticised the limit.

The Royal Commission recommended a cap of $200,000

“You’ve got organisations like the Catholic Church who have got billions of dollars,” she told the public hearing on Tuesday.

“They’re getting off scot-free basically.”

Ms Foster said the institutions were responsible for allowing the abuse to continue, as in the case of the Catholic priest who abused two of her three daughters.

“This is a real slap in the face for victims,” she said of the $150,000 cap.

Ballarat survivorAndrew Collins was equally critical.

“It was George Pell who said that “The church will pay whatever the government says that it has to pay”. In other words if the government says that they have to pay a pathetic amount, then they will pay it.

“The institutions had every opportunity to start treating survivors with dignity and respect, and they could have been making interim payments and costs of real care– not just counsellors, but psychiatrists and psychologists.

“All of them sat on their hands and did nothing, instead waiting to be told what the minimum was that they had to do. This is not how the public expects religious and government organisations to act, Mr Collins said.

Andrew Collins

“There is no incentive or penalty that they are facing, and of course there is no deterrent to other organisations acting in a similar in the future. The precedence set by the proposed scheme is that the rape of children is not as important as a person who is falsely detained by the government or a person who falls over in a supermarket, both of which victims have been paid from $400,000 to over $1 million plus ongoing care.”

The child abuse royal commission recommended a maximum payment of $200,000, as well as the signing of deeds of release.

Support group Berry Street representative Simon Gardiner said survivors needed to consider whether they should take legal action rather than accept a modest amount through the redress scheme.

“The choice is between a settlement for clearly a much more modest amount than would otherwise be available if the survivor was brave enough to embark on the civil litigation process,” Mr Gardiner said.

The inquiry heard excluding child sexual abuse survivors who committed a serious crime from redress would be soul destroying and effectively amounted to systemic racism.

Mr Gardiner said he believed “nobody would be beyond the pale” in terms of redress.

“Let’s be really clear – the amount that is likely to be offered is essentially a drop in the bucket for a lifetime that has been blighted by childhood experiences.”

The federal government has indicated it may allow exceptions to the rule on a case-by-case basis.

But Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency representative Megan Van Den Berg says that means survivors who made applications for redress would be judged on whether they were deserving or not.

“These exclusions will disproportionately exclude Aboriginal victims due to the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice and criminal systems, therefore amounting to systemic racism and a breach of ‘s human rights obligations,” she said.

The inquiry heard many survivors believe they will receive the maximum $150,000, although an expert believed very few will get that amount.

The average is expected to be $76,000, according to federal Department of Social Services modelling.

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