Quarter of a million found to have been abused in care – what now?

Shine Lawyers New Zealand - Right Wrong

By Mobeena Hills.

It has been revealed that almost 40% of children in the care of faith-based institutions in New Zealand have been abused in some way. This shocking statistic came to light in a report handed down by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care.

This means that almost a quarter of a million of our most vulnerable have been abused in care since the 1950s. A disproportionate number of those are Māori or Pasifika or suffering from a disability. 

Compensation for historical abuse survivors

Access to justice in the civil jurisdiction of the courts in New Zealand is difficult if not impossible for survivors of abuse in New Zealand at present.   There is the cost of going to court, limitation issues, difficulties giving evidence and being believed, and the process is re-traumatizing for survivors. So relatively few cases of historic abuse are dealt with in the civil jurisdiction in New Zealand. 

This is in contrast to Australia where there are systems and many law firms dedicated to fighting for the rights of those seeking justice for abuse survivors.  Shine Lawyers, Senior Associate, Mobeena Hills worked for a large abuse law firm.   It is not uncommon for survivors to be awarded $1 million in compensation for historical abuse in Australia.  One of the clients Mobeena acted for in Australia received $1.5 million which was at the time the highest in Australian history for a case of its kind.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, there is a case where a survivor courageously brought a civil claim against the perpetrator and received absolutely nothing. Due to our time limitation rules for bringing claims, the survivor was denied compensation and was instead ordered to pay costs to her abuser. So she came out of the process worse off than if she had continued to suffer in silence. 

Every case has different facts, but the odds are stacked against historic abuse survivors under the current regime in New Zealand so it’s time for change. Many abuse survivors suffer lifelong detrimental effects including mental health problems that make it difficult or impossible to work in some instances.

The Accident Compensation Corporation does not prohibit survivors to bring claims that relate to mental trauma.  However, our Limitation Acts generally only provide a six-year time limit for a survivor to bring a claim.  This is a significant barrier for the many survivors of historic abuse.  Hopefully, the Royal Commission Inquiry will recommend the lifting of this limitation and that will lead to change in the law so historic cases can be brought by survivors in New Zealand.

Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

In Australia, Shine Lawyers has successfully advocated for legislative change on the issue of claims for historic abuse. Australia abolished limitation laws applying to historic child sexual abuse following its Royal Commission Enquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.  This has allowed survivors to successfully bring claims for compensation for historic abuse.

The Australian Royal Commission found that the average time for a survivor to disclose child sexual abuse is at least 22 years.  This is largely due to survivors of sexual abuse repressing their memories of the abuse, which medical professionals working in the area of mental health may understand. As mentioned, in New Zealand, the time period to bring a civil action is six years.

To date, 900 survivors have shared their stories with the Royal Commission in NZ. However, historic abuse isn’t just confined to state care and faith-based institutions. There have been historic abuse claims in foster care, as well as claims of abuse inflicted by medical professionals and in schools. It is estimated that there are more than 150 survivors who have recently reported historic abuse relating to the Dilworth School.

Abolishing the limitation period for survivors of sexual abuse

Many abuse survivors are now left asking the question “what now?”. With the Inquiry’s recommendations due to be issued by June 2023, it is hoped that the Australian process is followed and the six-year limitation for bringing a historic abuse claim is lifted.

Can you make a claim for historic abuse?

There are now still a number of possible avenues to make a claim for historic abuse depending on the circumstance of the abuse and unique factual situation. Once the Royal Commission makes its recommendations there will be more clarity which is due in 2023.

But right now, in some circumstances, it is possible to take legal action to obtain acknowledgment and compensation for historic abuse, despite limitation periods. At Shine Lawyers, we have experience acting for survivors of abuse. Depending on your circumstances, we can guide you through making a claim and the process of receiving compensation.  There are some churches and schools that have approached us with Resolution Processes specifically designed for survivors of abuse.  We can advise clients whether these processes are suitable or what other options there may be specific to your situation and needs.

Shine Lawyers has a team of carefully selected expert abuse lawyers that can help survivors.

How do I make a historic claim?

If you have suffered from historic abuse contact Shine Lawyers.  We can assess your situation and advise you on the best pathway for redress.

The Royal Commission does not provide compensation for historical abuse and neglect. Currently, it is seeking survivors’ stories to gather evidence and make recommendations to the government, to bring about legislative change. This may not result in a payment of compensation to you but will help bring change.

If you need to make a claim for historic abuse in school, state care or in relation to any faith-based institution, contact Shine Lawyers.  It is important to seek tailored legal advice specific to the circumstances, as different avenues may be available for you.

Where to seek support

If you or someone you know has been affected by historic abuse, there is help available. Here are some resources:

Shine Lawyers – we’re here to help

Shine Lawyers has a team of carefully selected expert abuse lawyers that help survivors to access the justice, and receive acknowledgment, and the compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one has suffered abuse, our team may be able to help.


Mobeena Hills, Senior Associate, at [email protected] or 03 662 9206

Pieter Venter, Special Counsel, at [email protected] or 09 4140397

 to schedule a confidential and no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.

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