Q&As

Dr Philippa White and Gary Dean on Working with Survivors of Abuse: What Lawyers Need to Know

Friday May 11, 2018

Philippa White

Dr Philippa White has qualifications in journalism, social work and social policy and has worked with survivors of institutional abuse since 2005. Since 2012, Philippa has been the Director of Tuart Place, a counselling and resource service for adults who experienced out-of-home care during childhood. The client cohort includes members of the Stolen Generations, the ”Forgotten Australians”, and former child migrants from the UK and Malta, known collectively as care leavers. 

Gary Dean

Gary Dean is a barrister practising from First Floor Irwin Chambers in Perth. Prior to joining the Bar he spent many years as a litigation lawyer practising in the amalgam at a number of prominent Western Australian firms, including Keall Brinsden (now Corrs Chambers Westgarth) and Bennett & Co. Gary has more than 25 years' experience in legal practice and has been involved in a wide range of civil, corporate and commercial litigation including complex contractual disputes, property litigation, administrative appeals, trade practices, statutory, equitable and trusts claims.

Legalwise Seminars interviewed Philippa and Gary about the challenges and trends in the civil claims against institutional abuse area. Learn more from Philippa and Gary at the seminar Civil Claims Against Institutional Abuse: The Tipping Point.

What are the trends and developments in civil claims against institutional abuse?

The impending removal of the Statute of Limitations on child sexual abuse claims – likely to take effect in early July 2018 – means, that for the first time in WA, survivors of historical child sexual abuse may have access to proper compensation.

What are the challenges of using the courts to pursue civil claims against institutional abuse? 

“Care leavers often suffered multiple forms of abuse and neglect, in addition to sexual abuse, and may have complex PTSD and compromised literacy skills.”

Survivors of historical institutional abuse, particularly the group known as “care leavers” (members of the Stolen Generations, the “Forgotten Australians”, and former child migrants), are an elderly cohort, and many are in poor physical and mental health. Care leavers often suffered multiple forms of abuse and neglect, in addition to sexual abuse, and may have complex PTSD and compromised literacy skills.

Some care leavers will be unable to cope with the inevitable re-traumatisation of a court process and the length of time involved.

What’s a common mistake made by practitioners pursuing civil claims in this area?

It is a mistake to treat historical institutional abuse claims like standard personal injury claims and, lawyers should adapt their approach to accommodate the kinds of issues mentioned above.  For people whose abuse occurred in religious contexts, there may be complex emotional attachments and psychological difficulties that require sensitivity and a trauma-informed approach.

What developments in civil claims against institutional abuse should practitioners keep an eye on?

The reforms to the Western Australian Civil Liability and Limitation Acts will allow some people who have previously settled claims for child sexual abuse and signed deeds, to take fresh legal action under the new laws.  Time limits on child sexual abuse claims will be removed, and mechanisms put in place whereby survivors will have access to assets held by responsible institutions.

Dr Philippa White led the primary support service for applicants in the 'Redress WA' scheme, which operated between 2008 and 2011, and provided ex-gratia payments to adults who were abused as children in state-governed Homes and foster care. Philippa previously coordinated 'CBERS Consultancy', a support service for care leavers and ex-students abused in institutions operated by Catholic congregations in WA. Over the last 14 years, Philippa has assisted a large number of complainants taking part in alternative dispute resolution processes with religious and other non- government past providers of institutional care.

Philippa is an expert in the area of redress and has accepted invitations to speak at Australian and international proceedings, most recently the Australian Senate Committee Inquiry into proposed legislation for a Commonwealth redress scheme for institutional child sexual abuse. Philippa works with lawyers representing clients in historic abuse complaints processes and has provided training to a range of professionals working with survivors of institutional child abuse.

She has developed frameworks for supporting traumatised individuals in ways that facilitate optimal outcomes and minimise re-traumatisation. As Director of Tuart Place, Philippa responds to the vicarious trauma inherent in work with abuse survivors, using simple and effective strategies to ameliorate vicarious traumatisation of staff and volunteers 

Gary Dean practices before courts and tribunals in Western Australia and South Australia, the Commonwealth courts and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He also appears as counsel in mediations and arbitrations in each of these jurisdictions.

Gary has acted for a diverse range of individual and corporate clients across a variety of businesses and industries. He has also represented a number of claimants in historical child abuse claims. He is also an interstate member of William Light Chambers in Adelaide, South Australia.

Learn more from Philippa and Gary at the seminar Civil Claims Against Institutional Abuse: The Tipping Point in the Parmelia Hilton Perth on Thursday, June 21.

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