You’ve likely seen a rise in the reporting of historical abuse matters in the media over the past few years—as well as a groundswell of community support for the victim-survivors of institutional and child sexual abuse.
For lawyers, securing justice and compensation for victim-survivors of institutional abuse requires sensitivity, compassion and patience, but the team at MEJ know just how important and rewarding this work can be.
Lawyers such as Hassan Ehsan, a Senior Associate at MEJ, have put representing survivors of institutional abuse at the heart of their practice—ensuring a fair and empathetic legal process for their clients.
We sat down with Hassan to discuss why this is such an important moment for survivors.
After the Royal Commission’s report was released, historical child sexual abuse matters have appeared more frequently in the media—has this surprised you at all?
No, it hasn’t surprised me at all. The Royal Commission’s findings were hugely significant. It was incredibly empowering for a lot of victims. It gave them a voice. We are of course now, several years on from the findings as made by the Royal Commission and there are still a number of amendments and developments that need to happen to allow survivors greater access to justice, however, it was a vitally important early step in allowing claims of this nature to be properly pursued.
Previously, a lot of the work in this area was focussed on clergy members and institutions of faith. It then further expanded to government institutions such as branches of the Defence Force Defence and we are now witnessing a further expansion into sporting institutions, most recently being Swimming Australia.
A recent reported decision is the $2.6 million verdict for a survivor against Geelong College. Whilst no amount of compensation in my view is enough for survivors, it’s another example demonstrating that significant awards are possible. It is one way of showing the magnitude of the extent of injury and loss.
Why are you passionate about advocating for your clients’ futures?
For me, it comes down to the basic fabrics of what being a lawyer is about. There’s a quote from one the best legal minds in our country, the Honourable Michael Kirby who said never forget the justice bit. It’s such a simple statement but a very important one.
Historical child sexual abuse survivors go through problems that can be incomprehensible to others. The work that we do is about achieving compensation, accountability and acknowledgement of the wrongs that were committed on victims many years ago. Being at the forefront of such an area of the law that is continuing to develop is very rewarding.
Tell us about a recent career highlight?
It is difficult to isolate one individual over others, I recently however completed a matter for a man who is now well into 80s. As an 11-year-old boy, he was brought to Australia from the United Kingdom in the late 1950s under the Government’s child migrant scheme of that time.
He was placed at a children’s home in Western Australia. There, he was physically and sexually abused. To make his situation even more horrific, he did not have any way to prevent, or report the abuse to anyone. This is a common theme.
I was one of the first people he told the entirety of his story to. When we finished the case and achieved a strong outcome for him, it was the first real step towards closure for him.
It’s a story I’ll never forget.
In your opinion, how important has it been for your clients to get closure, even if the alleged abuse happened decades ago?
Getting comfort from finality Is very important. That is something that my clients regularly tell me. In addition to the financial outcome, the written apologies acknowledging the wrongs committed for example, are often an important component of this closure.
We must remember that as children, many survivors were unable to report the abuse because of fear of potential repercussions as often, the perpetrator was in a position of power and/or trust. Many have lived with the scars and torment for decades.
It was only with legal support, magnified by media attention following the Royal Commission, that many have been able to take the first essential step towards some comfort and finality.