We need to create a better future

The 42nd Royal Commission Hearing into the Anglican Church in the Newcastle region commenced yesterday.

As a solicitor who represents survivors and who wants to be part of a society which faces its past to create a better future for our children, I attended the Royal Commission’s first day of inquiring into the Anglican Church in Newcastle.

The hearing heard harrowing and devastating evidence from two survivors who were sexually abused by Father Peter Rushton (Father Peter) and James Michael Brown (Jim) over an extended period of time when they were children. The survivors’ evidence indicated that there were other boys who were also being abused at the same time.

It was truly inspiring to see the survivors telling their stories to the world despite the devastating pain they were, just so that they could be the voice for others. It won’t change what happened to them, but giving a voice to so many other survivors who can’t use their own voice is a self-less act which should be applauded. If it prompts even one survivor to final speak about being abused, to seek treatment, go to the police, contact the Royal commission or contact a lawyer, the it benefits our entire society. We need to face the past to shape our future.

The Commission heard that in 2012 Jim was convicted of abusing one of the survivors and 22 other boys. Unfortunately, Father Peter died in 2007 before he could be tried and convicted for any offences.

One of the survivors reported that we “…need to improve the ways survivors access mental health services.” The Commission heard how the survivor had multiple admissions to hospital after having a breakdown and how after time went on, the Church refused to pay for his hospital admissions, especially after he received a lump sum of compensation. The effect of complex trauma from child sexual abuse is still widely misunderstood. There is no cure, a quick fix which will make it go away. It takes time. There is no set time and there is not necessarily one type of treatment or one hospital program which will work for every survivor. Institutions obviously still don’t understand that in most cases treatment, in some form or another, will be needed for life.

One survivor told the Commission that even though he ended up reaching a settlement for his abuse from the Anglican Church in 2013, he had no financial advice and didn’t know how to handle such a large sum of money: “All of a sudden I’ve got a bank full of money, and no financial advice, no advice what I should do – there it is, see ya later.”

The survivor’s stories highlight how financial compensation has to be comprehensive and trauma informed. A key role in this is for a survivor’s lawyer to assist them in getting comprehensive evidence on the future treatment they will need and getting financial advice on what to do once they receive a settlement amount.

I believe that compensation for survivors of abuse must has to be meaningful, it should be something that survivors can use to build a better future for themselves and their family, regardless of the actual sum. An essential component of compensation must be a comprehensive assessment of a survivors treatment needs for the rest of their lives. This is the approach that we take at NLS Law and the evidence being heard by the Commission reinforces how important this is. Nothing can change the past. All we as a society, including the law, can do is face it, and make sure the future is better.

The hearing continues in the Newcastle Court.

Sherilyn Dunkley

Senior Associate


Image: Brian A Jackson / shutterstock.com