Sexual abuse survivor falls through the cracks, as lawyers accuse governments and institutions of playing hardball
Survivor Kenneth Stagg hoped the royal commission would open the door to compensation for his family. (ABC News: Jane Bardon)
As Kenneth Stagg walks around the remains of the foundations of Darwin’s Retta Dixon home for Stolen Generation children, painful memories of being sexually abused as a young boy flood back.
- Survivor Kenneth Stagg says the national redress scheme does not admit wrong-doing
- He tried to sue for compensation in court, but his case was ultimately dropped
- Lawyers say governments and institutions are making court cases overly tough
“There was a lot of sexual abuse here, there was one of the staff members committing sexual abuse against the boys,” he said.
“No-one wanted to go into cottage number two because they knew what he was doing to the boys here.”
Mr Stagg’s sister and brother were also abused at the Australian Indigenous Ministries home, regulated by the Federal Government.
They were forcibly taken and kept as mixed-race children when he was two. His brother was one, and his sister was three.
“I remember playing on Fannie Bay Beach with my brother and sister and the welfare taking us from the beach,” he said.
“We were kept here until we were about 11, and then we were allowed to leave with our aunt.”
Kenneth and his brother Kevin were both sexual abused by staff; their sister Veronica was raped by other children affected by abuse in the home.
But almost a year since the royal commission delivered its final report, the toll on his family has been heavy.
Mr Stagg’s brother is gravely ill, his sister has now passed away, and he has just been diagnosed with lung cancer.
He said he smokes to try to deal with the trauma of what he suffered.
‘There is no justice for me’
Mr Stagg had hoped the commission’s final report would open the door to compensation for his family.
He decided the Federal Government’s national redress scheme, announced in July, offered inadequate compensation and would not provide him with an official government admission of wrong-doing — so he decided to sue in court instead.
But he was so angry with the legal system that removed him from his family and allowed him to be abused that he could not bring himself to sign the paperwork that would have allowed lawyers to access his medical files.
He also felt that if he cooperated fully with the legal process, he would have to agree that the settlement of Indigenous Australia and the child removal policies that resulted from that were legitimate.
So his lawyers Maurice Blackburn had to drop the case.
“I’d like to believe that they continue to fight for fair, but they’re trapped in the same sources of law that I’m trying to break free from,” Mr Stagg said.
He is now destitute, on the dole, and facing homelessness.
“I’m the one who will not be recognised. I’m the one who has been put to one side,” he said of the Federal Government.
“So there is no justice for me. There’s no truth being revealed to me, and they’re acting in bad faith against me.”
But Mr Stagg resigned himself to having slipped through the cracks, partly as a result of his own choices.
“My family say that I shouldn’t bite the hand that will feed me. But I can’t. I just can’t put my hand in this cake,” he said.
Governments, institutions playing ‘hardball’
Mr Stagg welcomed the Prime Minister’s apology to survivors in October, but said he is devastated every time he hears about another sexual abuse case in the news.
“I’ve heard so many times: I’m sorry,” he said.
“But is it, ‘I’m sorry this was done, or I’m sorry this will continue?'”
Mr Stagg was invited to the national apology to victims and survivors (ABC News: Jane Bardon)
The Federal Department of Social Services told the ABC that it could not discuss individual cases.
But it said the national redress scheme had been set up to provide an alternative to survivors to going to court, “which can provide access to redress in a timely, simple and trauma-informed way”.
Maurice Blackburn would not comment on Mr Stagg’s case, but said it had hundreds of clients around Australia who had turned their backs on the national redress scheme because it was viewed as too miserly.
“And that’s around the limit or the cap on a redress payment of $150,000 rather than the $200,000 that was recommended by the royal commission,” said Michelle James, the company’s head of abuse law.
The Social Services Department said the money offered reflected the lower requirements to produce evidence of abuse and “stakeholder feedback was taken into account in the design of the assessment framework”.
Maurice Blackburn has also criticised the amounts being offered to survivors to pay for counselling as “callous”.
“The amount available for psychological counselling is dependent on the nature of the abuse that you suffered,” Ms James said.
“In particular, whether the abuse was penetrative abuse, contact abuse or exposure abuse.”
The legal firm said some governments and institutions were playing hardball against survivors who had started to go through the court process.
Children at the front of a building at the Retta Dixon home in the Northern Territory. Undated. (Supplied)
Ms James said some were requiring survivors to see two doctors to be assessed for psychological damage, and to attend pre-court conferences where they must face representatives of the institutions which abused them.
“It’s incumbent on them to really have front of mind that these people are dealing with complex trauma,” she said.
“They are survivors of child sexual abuse, and this whole legal process can be incredibly retraumatising for them.”