Supporting survivors to access justice
Throughout October we are reflecting on how the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) has helped to improve access to justice for victims and survivors. Last week, we looked at the Royal Commission’s recommendations to make justice systems fairer and more effective for survivors. This week, we look at knowmore’s role during the Royal Commission, as well as our ongoing work supporting survivors to access justice and how we have contributed to the implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations to improve justice systems.
knowmore’s mission and the focus of our work is to help survivors to access justice for the harm they experienced as children.
knowmore was established in 2013 as a national legal advisory service to provide trauma-informed and client-centred services to support victims and survivors who were considering sharing their evidence and accounts with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission). We were the first community legal service in Australia specifically established to support people to engage with a Royal Commission, in recognition of the legal and support needs of survivors and the barriers survivors face in coming forward.
Supporting survivors during the Royal Commission
Throughout the Royal Commission, knowmore assisted nearly 9,000 people from across Australia. Most of these people were victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The assistance we provided was critical to ensuring that survivors could come forward to share their experiences and engage with the Royal Commission in a trauma-informed and culturally safe way. For many survivors, their engagement with knowmore and the Royal Commission was the first time they had told anyone about what had happened to them as a child. For many other survivors, it was the first time their voices had been heard and believed.
For many survivors, the Royal Commission represented the first step in their journey to access justice. knowmore supported those survivors by:
- providing legal information and advice about their justice and redress options
- helping them to access their records from governments and institutions
- supporting them to engage with the criminal justice system, including by helping them to report their abuse to police and make written statements
- helping them to navigate the civil litigation system.
We also drew on our experiences working with victims and survivors to undertake advocacy to inform the Royal Commission’s findings and recommendations. knowmore made a number of submissions to the Royal Commission highlighting the importance of improving access to justice for survivors, including through civil litigation, the criminal justice system and the establishment of a national redress scheme.
Key submissions to the Royal Commission
Our ongoing services supporting survivors to access justice
Since the end of the Royal Commission on 15 December 2017, we have continued our important work supporting survivors to access justice. Our services have been expanded from January 2022 to offer support to all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, regardless of whether their abuse happened in an institutional, family or other setting.
Access to justice can have many important benefits for both survivors and the wider community, but we recognise many survivors can face difficulties pursuing their options for justice. Engaging with justice systems can be re-traumatising for survivors and many survivors face significant barriers, including:
- lack of understanding about legal options and rights
- the cost of legal advice and representation
- the lack of support throughout justice processes.
At knowmore, we are proud to provide free, independent and expert legal advice to victims and survivors, and to ensure that they are supported by our multidisciplinary team of lawyers, counsellors and social workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement advisors and financial counsellors. Our team members are experienced in supporting survivors and are trained to provide services that are trauma-informed and culturally safe.
knowmore helps survivors to access justice by:
- providing information and advice about their options for justice and redress
- providing advice about speaking out about their experiences of child sexual abuse
- supporting them to make an application to the National Redress Scheme and/or the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme
- providing information about making a civil claim and making referrals to select legal firms
- talking to them about their options if they want to report child abuse to police
- providing information and support to access other schemes, including victims support schemes
- helping them to access their information and records.
Our advocacy to improve justice systems and outcomes
Our work with clients has demonstrated that justice systems don’t always work well for victims and survivors, particularly for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander survivors and survivors living with disability.
However, we believe that the Royal Commission’s recommendations provide a blueprint for how justice systems could be made fairer and more effective for survivors. While the Royal Commission focused on survivors of institutional abuse, many of the reforms the Royal Commission recommended can benefit all survivors.
Since the end of the Royal Commission, we have continued our advocacy to government to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations and enhance access to justice for survivors. Our advocacy focuses on improving criminal justice responses to child sexual abuse, improving access to compensation through civil litigation, and improving redress schemes, including the national redress scheme.
As a national service for survivors, we can provide unique insights into the strengths and weaknesses of justice systems across Australia and highlight the importance of nationally consistent and survivor-focused reforms. We seek to highlight the experiences of our clients to ensure that their voices are heard by those making decisions that affect their lives.
knowmore’s advocacy has contributed to the implementation of many of the Royal Commission’s key recommendations across all states and territories and has helped to keep governments accountable for their progress. We have also contributed to broader reforms that improve justice systems for survivors, including reforms that ensure survivors are not silenced by justice systems and are able to choose whether to share their stories publicly.
Join us next week as we take a closer look at the ways in which access to justice for victims and survivors has changed in the five years since the end of the Royal Commission. Until then, you can see some more examples of our advocacy in our submissions library.