No money? No justice for Survivors!
Pell’s right to appeal has been upheld by the High Court of Australia. I have no problem with that. Any Australian citizen has the right to appeal to a higher secular power … in this case our legal system and its variety of ascending higher-level courts.
That’s called a reasonable statement.
My statement, however, is only momentarily polite on such matters as the rights of citizens to appeal, to seek redress, and to seek justice, and to seek fairness.
George Pell has the right to appeal. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Religious Institutions also have the right to appeal.
And here’s where the absolute bloody bullshit of equitable appeal for justice for all here in Australia starts to kick in.
Whatever the source of those dollars, the fact is George Pell’s appeal has been buttressed and supported by a well-heeled appeal fund. Engaging high-flying barristers and solicitors are not cheap.
I, and many other Survivors of the heinous crimes that have been committed against us, would love to have our cases, and our stories, and our quests for justice, heard in the highest court in this land. Of course, we have a snowball’s chance in hell of that ever happening.
The majority of the Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are mired in poverty. They are beaten down not only by their punishing experiences, they are also gutted by years, decades, and in many cases, lifetimes swamped by the negative legacies of depression, and PTSD.
Of course, the defenders of the clergy, legal and otherwise, would point out that Survivors have equal right of access to the legal system. There are probably people out there in our society who believe such nonsense.
Here are some legal realities for Survivors of childhood sexual abuse when they embark on a path for justice.
Many Survivors, when they initiate a claim against an Institution for historical instances of childhood sexual abuse, are mired in poverty and cannot afford psychologically or financially to hang on long enough for their cases to receive a fair hearing in Court. It often takes years for the cases to be heard.
Institutions such as the Catholic Church etc are well aware of this fact and they put the pressure on Survivors to accept unsatisfactory Settlements via the mediation process.
I know what I am talking about because that was my direct experience in dealing with the Church. They knew I was mired in poverty as a result of enduring a lifetime of effects from my abuse, and they utilised that fact to pressure me into accepting a compensation figure that was woefully lower than what would have reasonably been awarded by a Court.
I can understand that most people simply do not understand the process that Survivors have to go through to seek justice. The system, via Gag Orders etc, is designed to keep us quiet, and the techniques and methods used by the Churches to minimise or defeat claims are rarely aired in the public arena. They need to be aired.
I was, and am, very unhappy with the Settlement terms I was offered. The compensation figure was low and it did not compensate me for a lifetime lost, there was no apology offered, no remorse shown, and no offer of remedial therapy was included. I felt brow-beaten into accepting their ‘offer’, and I felt pushed aside and treated as an annoyance who needed to be quickly silenced.
Well, I am not an annoyance. I am a human being. I have a voice. And, where possible in a legal sense, I intend to use my voice to highlight the methods used by Churches etc to suppress legitimate claims.
Some will say that ‘nobody forced you to sign the thing’. My response to such nonsense is that my impoverished state, and the unending pressure from the Church, did indeed force me to sign the bloody thing.
There is a partial legal Gag Order placed on me, as it is on many other Survivors, but that gag order does not stop me from speaking my mind.
The majority of Survivors are not rich people, they are poor people, they cannot afford to hire a Legal Team to stand against the bevy of Lawyers and Barristers used by the Churches and other Institutions to fritter down and negate justified claims.
Survivors are caught in a bind because of poverty, they have to rely on the ‘umbrella’ afforded by No Win No Fee law firms, and unless those firms are very sure that the case will be won they have to utilise common sense and decline to take the case on. Which leaves some Survivors with a justified claim that they cannot afford to pursue on their own.
Survivors in that position are forced to rely on the National Redress Scheme. I’m not surprised that a lot of Churches and Institutions have signed up to that Scheme, because if any sort of compensation is paid out to an individual under that Scheme it is going to be an awful lot less than what a Court would reasonably award. In my opinion only, the Scheme unintentionally favours the Churches etc and disadvantages the Survivors. The Scheme has unintended consequences attached. Religious politicians, religious institutions, not the best of combinations where redress is concerned.
Many Survivors are riddled with depression and PTSD, and I am one of them. And our condition often precludes us from taking on behemoth institutions like the Catholic Church.
It is important to note that I believe that most religious people are decent folk, and that any action I have taken, or will take, is against the Institution that made no effort whatsoever to protect my younger self from incessant abuse.
To initiate another round of legal action is not an easy thing for me to do, or for any other Survivor to do or countenance. It would be far easier to stay hidden away in the background.
Many people might not realise that when you initiate a claim, in order for a medico-legal report to be produced, your whole life and being is subject to a rigorous forensic examination by Psychiatrists appearing for either side of the case. Sometimes that examination is empathetic, and sometimes it is acidly adversarial.
Either way, you are forced over a number of years to continually live and recall the instances of your abuse in full never-ending detail simply to prove that your claim is justified. No wonder the process so completely demolishes so many people.
Churches etc drag out claims for as long as possible and subject the Survivor, who is in a very vulnerable position, to begin with, to a long period of sustained pressure. My initial experience with my claim against the Church drove me to the edge, and I learnt a lot from that. They will not do that to me again.
I will not be silent.
People out there, those of a well-meaning mindset or otherwise, need to understand that when Survivors approach the legal system to attain justice, they are hamstrung from the get-go because they simply do not have the dollars to hire a high-flying legal team. The Churches do.
It has taken me over 60 years to get to the point where I can say the following. Today’s High Court decision in favour of George Pell is the trigger.
I cannot speak for other Survivors but I can at least guess about what many of us might be feeling. The anger at how we have been treated is starting to appear. The anger is real. It comes from a deep well-spring of imposed traumatic experiences, and from the way we have been demeaned, sidelined, denied fair justice, and pushed aside by Religious Institutions over the course of our lifetimes.
It is a well-justified anger.
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