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Body of Evidence – Older Survivors and the Law

Over time the Australian Independent Media Network (AIMN) has, amongst many of the other things it does, proven itself to be a sensitive and non-judgemental supporter of Survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It has provided Survivors a platform to express their sometimes quite raw and confronting stories.

As a Survivor who was afforded such an opportunity by AIMN I fully realise that in this life you cannot just take, it also requires that you stand up and give back. There must be a balancing in such things.

As I write this I am thinking about Survivors in my age group who might just now be thinking of whether, after the passing of the majority of their lifetime, they should finally embark on the difficult legal journey to attain justice and redress.

They represent a cohort of Survivors in our society who will never get the chance to stand up in Court and directly confront their abusers. They will never get that chance because their abusers are long dead, and those Survivor’s claims for justice and fair compensation are deemed to be historical, and therefore, very difficult to prove.

I am specifically directing this article to Survivors of my generation. I am soon to be 69 years old. My experiences were hardly unique. How those experiences impacted on my whole life may be unique to me, but the abuse experiences themselves represent a commonality of experience unfortunately endured by far too many children in those years that are now almost a full lifetime ago.

To prosecute a case for justice in the modern era, when the events under scrutiny occurred well over 60 years ago, and whether that abuse occurred in an Institution or in the family home, is a very difficult process for older Survivors to go through. That is a truth, but it is a truth that does not minimise the difficulties any Survivor, of any age, goes through when they gather up their courage and seek acknowledgement, or fairness, or a lifting of their carried burden.

Two years ago I reached the end of a very personally arduous civil litigation process. It took 60 years of living before I developed the courage to stand up and seek justice. With hindsight, I can now say that I was woefully unprepared to enter that legal process. If you care to read my book, JAGGED (it is free on the Net/AIMN) you will quickly see how unprepared I was.

Still, every experience teaches us something. For any older Survivor contemplating the starting of their own legal journey I would like to offer up a tip, just a small nod to one of the ‘learnings’ that I experienced along the legal way.

The legal experience taught me about Body of Evidence. Nobody told me about it, I had to find out about if for myself. You may well ask what is it that I mean by the statement Body of Evidence?

When the perpetrators of your abuse are long dead, when they cannot be directly confronted for their deeds, all you have to fall back on is the veracity of your own story, which will be determinidly questioned throughout the legal process, and the body of evidence that you have accumulated over the course of your lifetime.

In other words You are your own body of evidence. As you reach your 60s and 70s the measurable legacies and impacts that you have carried over the course of your lifetime become your answer to the hurdle of burden of proof.

As best you can, it pays to pre-prepare before you pick up the phone and contact a legal firm.

There are specifics that you can list out before you embark on any litigation path. Your chosen legal team will then later help you to put such information in a more cogent and effective form. The following are but a few examples and they may or may not apply to you.

1/ Inability to hold consistent employment.
2/ Inability to maintain effective relationships.
3/ Inability to trust.
4/ Continual fears and always being hyper-aware or on guard.
5/ No self-esteem.
6/ The belief that the setbacks in your life are solely your fault and deserved.
7/ The annoyance of scattered or unfocused thinking.

The legacies that you may carry can also be measured and described by professionals at the psychiatric level. These can include some or all of the following.

1/ Chronic Depression.
2/ PTSD
3/ Agoraphobia.
4/ Melancholy/sadness.
5/ Addictions to drugs/alcohol – either as now and then self-medication or as a lifelong addiction.
6/ Diminished life potential.
7/ Inability to ‘hold down’ the bad memories as you age.
8/ Anti-authoritarianism.

I did not pre-prepare. Didn’t even think of pre-preparing. So I urge you to do so. My exposure to psychiatric forensic questioning during the legal process came on in a rush and I faded away under the pressure of it. Organise a strong support network for yourself before you initiate legal proceedings.

I cannot advise any other Survivor regarding which path of litigation is best for you to go down. But I can at least reiterate this tip. Prepare your Body of Evidence first. It will be a difficult thing to do and face up to. But it is worth doing – and it may well in part protect you from the ambushing and tearing down that is an untold component of any legal process that any Survivor, of any age, may experience as they embark on a journey for justice.

Remember: As an older Survivor – you are the Living Evidence, you have lived the life, your very being is the Proof, you are your own Body of Evidence of the lifelong affects and legacies that your experiences of childhood abuse imposed on you. Put it all down on paper. Compile a formidable document. Gather good support around yourself. Represent yourself with strength.

Regards Keith

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4 comments

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  1. Michael Taylor

    Keith, your courage and honesty are inspirational.

    Your article goes deeper than your own experiences: it is a blueprint for anyone who has been scarred by life.

  2. wam

    Such blueprint advice is transferable to any recipient of trauma contemplating some form of redress. I hope it is read by someone who has lived under the pressure of silence or heard by them second or third hand as people talk at functions about your experiences or perhaps by recommendation to others. Keep strong, keith, and remember we are in your corner.

  3. Keith Davis

    Hi Michael and Wam .. your comments come from different but very real directions.

    Michael .. you are my Brother in the same way that Ernie Dingo said that I am his Brother. Men like the three of us do not say these things lightly.

    Wam. You are who you are and you have hung in with me, despite my faults, over the years. I reckon I owe you a Space/Universe type article. Coming soon hopefully. It is great to hear from you.

  4. Sharon

    Excellent article Keith. Very helpful information for any abuse survivor – it can, in my opinion, help someone come to terms that there are lasting effects of their abuse and they are real. The two lists you supplied could be a starting point for someone in their healing journey. Thank you Keith for your article.

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