A coalition of representatives from Australia’s legal, human rights and community services sectors have signed an open letter to state and Federal Attorneys-General and Social Services Minister Dan Tehan, urging them to ensure people with criminal convictions have access to the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child abuse.
“We welcome the Federal Government’s commitment to the National Redress Scheme which will provide access to monetary payments, counselling and direct personal responses to those who have been victims of child sexual abuse. This scheme will help to support healing for many survivors of abuse who have struggled with grief and trauma for far too long,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.
However the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, which passed in Parliament this week, may exclude some victims of child sexual abuse by making case-by-case decisions about people who have received a custodial sentence of five or more years.
“Many people who have committed crimes are victims themselves, and evidence suggests survivors of sexual abuse are five times more likely to be charged with an offence than others,” says Ms Edwards.
“Restricting access to the redress scheme for people who have been incarcerated for five or more years may leave victims of child sexual abuse without access to rightful compensation – even though the abuse suffered may be a major factor behind their offending later in life. This denies people who have spent time in prison of their human rights and also ignores the fact that many people who commit offences are themselves victims of abuse, trauma and neglect.”
The open letter, authored by Jesuit Social Services, has been signed by organisations including the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Australian Lawyers Alliance, Human Rights Law Centre, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
The letter highlights that many survivors of child sexual abuse spoke to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about how the complex trauma and disadvantage resulting from their experience of abuse led to involvement with the justice system later in life, and that the status of victim and offender are often intertwined.
Ms Edwards also notes that the Attorneys-General of the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia have publicly raised concerns that the redress scheme could exclude people with criminal convictions.
“This issue must continue to remain in the spotlight and it must be legislated that all victims of child sexual abuse have access to redress under this scheme – regardless of whether or not they have criminal convictions. We cannot deny people a chance to rehabilitate and heal.”
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