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Your guide to institutional abuse claims

Although often associated with children in foster care or daycare, institutional abuse can happen to anyone while they’re in long-term care at a facility. And, unfortunately, the abuse can range from physical to psychological. If you’re aware of someone who may be suffering from institutional abuse or was the victim of abuse, know that the violations made against you aren’t your fault and the victim deserves justice. 

To guide you through the process and point you in the right direction toward support and compensation, read on to learn more.

Institutional abuse explained

Organisational or institutional abuse refers to the mistreatment of people through physical, psychological or systematic violence in a space that is meant for care, treatment or support. 

In 2013, the Commonwealth Government called upon the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia. This focuses specifically on children who were sexually abused while in the care of state institutions and organisations. As the Commission learned more about how institutions respond to claims and the difficulty victims were facing in court, The Commission started to improve how they dealt with the matters. 

As a result, institutions that are accused of any type of abuse are investigated by the Royal Commission. 

In the years following 2013, the Commission improved reporting and responding practices and developed the National Redress Scheme on 1 July 2018.

Where can institutional abuse occur?

It can happen in any institution such as:

  • Churches
  • Sporting Associations
  • Scouts
  • Schools
  • Juvenile justice centres
  • Foster care
  • Mental institutions
  • Retirement homes

This is not an exhaustive list, and abuse can happen to people of all ages wherever they’ve put their trust and safety in the hands of authority or institution.

Signs of abuse

Historical abuse doesn’t have to be physical, it can be as small as forcing someone to only drink a single cup of tea at the same time every day. It essentially describes any situation where a person’s freedom to choose has been stripped away. 

Abuse can happen once, intermittently or consistently throughout someone’s lifetime. Some forms of abuse might take several states such as:

  • No flexibility of schedule.
  • Complete financial dependence.
  • Lack of choice — in things like food, clothing, possessions, lighting and heating.
  • Physical or verbal abuse.
  • Neglect in the form of withholding necessities like food, clothing, water, shelter, etc.
  • Solitary confinement or unlawful use of restraint. 
  • Forcible feeding. 
  • Failure to respect privacy.
  • Threats of harm or abandonment.
  • Forced labour or sex trafficking. 
  • Sexual abuse like rape, inappropriate touch, harassment, leering or indecent exposure.


As a result of some of these forms of abuse, people will begin to show clear (or sometimes subtle) signs of harm (whether ongoing or after a single event). Some indications that abuse is happening in an institutional setting could include:

  • Authority members treat adults like children.
  • Inadequate staffing levels.
  • Public embarrassment.
  • Unnecessary exposure while bathing.
  • Hungry or dehydrated people.
  • Insufficient personal clothing or possessions and communal use of personal items.
  • Lack or prohibition of visitors.
  • Poor record keeping or missing personal documentation.
  • Bruising, scars, scratches or other signs of physical violence. 

When someone is severely abused, they may come out of the institution (if ever) worse off than when they entered. If you are a survivor of institutional child abuse or elder abuse, you should know your rights and how to seek righteous compensation for the crimes inflicted on you.

Your rights as a survivor of institutional abuse

No amount of money will change what happened to you physically and emotionally by the event or series of events of abuse. However, legal compensation can cover the cost of therapy, medical treatments and living costs for those who are unable to hold a job. 

You have the right to file a claim against your abuser or institution with the police. You should also seek medical examination and advice from a doctor as soon as possible. This can help you deal with any long- or short-term damage such as physical ailments or to begin emotional trauma healing. The earlier you seek help, the faster you will pave the road to recovery.

If you want to gain compensation to cover your expenses, you must speak with a lawyer who specialises in institutional abuse compensation claims.

Time limits based on state or territory

Generally, you must lodge a personal injury claim in most states and territories within three years of the incident. 

Until recently, this included child sexual abuse — both domestic and institutional. However, due to the research, the Royal Commission put into understanding child sexual abuse and how survivors come out of the event, they found that it takes an average of 20 years to process the crimes done to them and then to speak up and seek justice. For this reason, the statutory time limits have been abolished for child sex abuse.

Types of claims you can make

The emotional and even physical damage you’ve experienced from abuse can be a lot to take on as you consider how to pursue legal action. 

You can make a Redress claim where you contact the Royal Commission for compensation and therapy. There are a couple of drawbacks to this option:

  • The abuse must be child institutional abuse (so if you were abused at a psychiatric hospital as an adult or elder home, this is not an option).
  • Once you make a Redress Scheme claim, you cannot make a common law claim at the same time.

In a common law compensation claim, it may be difficult to gain an appeal on psychological abuse, but you can gain monetary compensation for pain and suffering, medical treatment costs and an apology from the institution.

Who can make a claim?

Making a Redress Scheme claim involves several stipulations. Such regulations include being the age of 18 or older when you file, never having served time in jail and never receiving payment related to your abuse. 

Outside of the Redress Scheme, all adults in the community have a responsibility to report child or patient abuse. In Victoria, specifically, there is a law enacted in 2014 called the Failure to Disclose Offence. There are intervention orders across the country to encourage bystanders, who have a reasonable belief that abuse has been committed, to come forward to the police.

Compensation lawyers for institutional abuse claims

If you or someone you know has suffered institutional abuse of any kind, you should feel empowered to come forward, seek legal advice and help this person out of the cycle of trauma. While the survivor will need to recount the events to their lawyer, and while we understand this can be extremely hard or even triggering, we are here to listen to your experiences and help you seek justice. 

Once your abuse lawyer has taken down the details of your claim, we will work tirelessly to help you make a claim and earn compensation. You can count on Gerard Malouf & Partners abuse lawyers to fight for your rights against the institutional response to abuse. We have extraordinary court and mediation results for institutional sexual abuse received in Victoria and other states and we can help you too. 

Reach out to a personal injury lawyer today for a no-obligation legal advice consultation.

© 2022 
Gerard Malouf & Partners
 — Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers

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