Slater and Gordon has been acting for abuse survivors for more than 25 years and has seen a steady increase in abuse claims since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was announced in 2012.
Claims and enquiries have increased in Victoria more specifically since the Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) in 2015 removed time limitations for survivors to make claims for historical physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
While a small amount of claims involve physical abuse only, the majority of historical matters involve both physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse and violence was rampant in schools run by the Christian Brothers and Marist Brothers, as well as in care homes and orphanages. These institutions often treat instances of physical abuse without sexual abuse as “low level” and not as significant despite the fact it can have a terrible impact on children.
Through the work we do with survivors, it is obvious that the impact of childhood violence stays with victims for life. Defendants argue that “times were different” and corporal punishment was acceptable all those years ago.
The reality is that a lot of the abuse we hear about extended beyond discipline within the school setting and was violent and cruel in nature. The impact of excessive physical punishment and assault can be extremely damaging to children and have lifelong implications in terms of their mental health and quality of life.
Many survivors who do pursue a claim, say they feel a sense of relief their voice is finally being heard and although the legal process can be daunting, they are pleased they persisted and have the ability to move forward with their lives.
Former St John’s Glenferrie student, who wanted to remain anonymous, decided to seek justice for the psychological and physical abuse he suffered and witnessed at the hands of staff members including three Brothers and a female teacher in the 1960s. He is bringing a civil claim against Trustees of the Marist Brothers in the Supreme Court Victoria and shares his experience below.
“My life was destroyed before it really began. No one can realise the hole torn in my life by years of fear and degradation. I was constantly living in nervous distress that more physical abuse would take place and anxious about what drama was next. The abuse was humiliating and frightening, and it significantly affected my development as a young person. I was once ambitious but I lost all ambition after my experiences with the Marists. The people who ran the school, including the Principal and other Brothers, did nothing to prevent schoolyard or classroom violence and if anything they encouraged it because the teachers and Brothers were frequently abusing us and everyone knew about it. Their approach to discipline was violent, cruel, callous, very righteous and religion-moralistic. My complaints were ignored by the Principal and other Brothers and there was no one else to turn to.
I was heavily assaulted on the first day of school by a much older boy who regularly assaulted me for years to come. When I reported these assaults I was dismissed and told to not be a tattletale or to be a man and stand up for myself. After he left the school, the next time I saw this older boy, he was dressed as a Marist brother at a formal St John’s event. I was physically assaulted by Marists and a lay teacher at St John’s – and I was psychologically abused and shamed. I witnessed disturbing and violent assaults on other boys. I suffered stress and distress at school most days. I have suffered deep disturbance at what I witnessed as well as what I suffered.
What I experienced contributed decisively to my giving up school in year 10. Shame and fear and anxiety was a natural state at school. I was a very intelligent student and tried to complete year 11 at the senior Marist school only to again be verbally abused in class and assaulted in the schoolyard. I chose to leave to avoid more abuse. I tried a state school but was too disillusioned to believe in my educational prospects so I went into manual labour to make a living. My future education was made impossible by the traumas I had suffered inside and outside classrooms. The classroom was a space where I was to be proven unworthy and made to suffer shame, violence and trauma. The complete lack of duty of care and protection left me in the wilderness for years, triggering traumas just by being in certain spaces. I could not hold jobs due to depression.
I moved interstate and was hospitalised at about age 20 after suffering a mental breakdown. After that I worked in various casual jobs - mostly menial. I believe my education would have been completed to the full, and life would have been significantly better for me, had my experience at St John’s been different. I have been haunted all my life by my own anger and self-hatred from the abuse, but also the nagging worry of what consequences there may have been later in life, for my victim schoolmates who also suffered before my eyes. I’ve been suicidal at various times. After decades of suffering I was finally formally diagnosed with depression for which I’ve received some treatment but not much relief.”
Slater and Gordon represent clients in nearly every state and territory and are currently speaking with new clients in-person (COVID-19 restrictions allowing), over the phone or by video link such as Zoom or Skype.Your first appointment is free** of charge and there is no obligation to carry on with a civil claim if you don’t want to. If you’d like Slater and Gordon to represent you, we act on a ‘no win, no fee*’ basis, meaning there is no financial burden on you while we investigate and conduct your claim.If you are being abused, report it to Victoria Police or NSW police.
Support is available for abuse and sexual assault survivors below:
- Headspace: 1800 650 890; https://headspace.org.au/
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800; https://kidshelpline.com.au/
- Blue Knot Foundation: 1300 657 380; https://www.blueknot.org.au/
- Bravehearts: 1800 272 831; https://bravehearts.org.au/
- Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault: 1800 806 292; https://casa.org.au/
- NSW Child & Adolescent Sexual Assault Counsellors: (02) 9601 3790; www.casac.org.au
The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.