Child sex abuse survivor’s hell
WHEN Russell Clark shoved a needle in his arm and injected heroin into his veins it worked "like medicine".
The 62-year-old child sex abuse survivor told news.com.au that the drug was the only thing that helped him cope after he was raped and beaten by four priests during his boarding school years at Salesians College in Brooklyn Park, South Australia. He was just 12 years old the first time he was sodomised by one of the men who he described as "a demon".
"It hurt a lot, I bled," he said of the attacks through tears.
"I was treated like an animal and discarded like a piece of shit."
He's been clean since the mid-1980s. But his troubles are far from over.
Mr Clark is ineligible for the government's planned $3.8 billion national redress scheme to compensate institutional child sex abuse victims because he is a convicted criminal.
The father of four, who lives with his partner Sandra in Loxton, South Australia, spent the earlier part of his adult life in and out of jail for nonviolent, drug-related crimes. But Mr Clark said that shouldn't make him unworthy of compensation as "eligible survivors" are paid up to $150,000 and provided access to counselling and psychological services as part of the scheme. The Commonwealth consulted with the states and decided to exclude sex offenders and anyone jailed for five years or more for crimes including murder or serious drug and fraud offences. Survivors convicted of lesser crimes would also be blocked "in exceptional cases". Under the plan, Scheme operators would be given authority to determine whether survivors who had served time in jail were still eligible for redress, on a case-by-case basis.
"To exclude myself and others from redress because I took drugs and committed crimes to support a habit is just stupid," Mr Clark told news.com.au.
"I hurt myself, self destruct mode is what usually happens when a child is raped and tortured.
"Those a**ewipes who abused me got away with it and they were protected for crimes against humanity."
Knowmore legal service executive officer Warren Strange said the discretion was very broad and described it as "exercisable really on grounds of ... some survivors (being) worthy of redress and others are not".
Mr Clark agreed with the sentiment: "What makes us worth less? How can a life be repaired? My life is coming to an end (but) what about those left behind who have to keep suffering?" he said. They were question he also put in his submissions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Mr Clark suffers from end stage liver disease, endured multiple transplant, and one doctor recently advised he had less than a year to live, according to him.
But he wants to ensure his loved ones left behind don't "lose everything when (he) goes".
Mr Clark has started a change.org petition to rally the government to drop the exclusion that makes child sex abuse survivors who later become convicted criminals ineligible for compensation. More than 24,000 supporters have signed it.
A Senate inquiry last month heard that Australia is the only country to have created a second class of child sexual abuse victims deemed unworthy of compensation because they have committed a serious crime. It also heard the exclusion ignored the fact victims were children at the time of the abuse and created two classes of "deserving" and "undeserving".
Australia's major churches joined victims' supporters in demanding the federal government drop the exclusion.
No other government scheme blocks survivors based on their criminal history, an international expert on institutional child abuse redress said.
"This exclusion has not been part of any government redress scheme or any redress scheme that I am aware of for institutional abuse or for that matter any Australian scheme that's been out there," Griffith University Professor Kathleen Daly told the inquiry in February.
All child sexual abuse survivors should be eligible for redress, the Anglican and Uniting churches and Salvation Army told the inquiry.
"It is well known and recognised by the royal commission that some survivors as a result of their abuse have engaged in abusive conduct themselves, including criminal conduct," their joint submission said.
"We believe the scheme needs to provide equal access and equal treatment to all survivors and not just particular classes of people," the Uniting Church's Rev John Cox told the public hearing.
The Catholic Church did not support the exclusion.
On Friday, Social Services Minister Dan Tehan Tehan said the scheme would only be able to deliver its full potential if every state and territory signed up along with non-government institutions. "I urge the premiers in all of the jurisdictions to prioritise this work and join the redress scheme without further delay," Mr Tehan said.
Earlier this week, South Australia suggested it would join the national redress scheme. The state had previously sat on the fence because it was already establishing its own compensation arrangements.
Most churches and charities back a truly national scheme, but want outstanding issues resolved before making a final decision to opt-in.
Unless they do so by the July 1 start date it could be a Commonwealth-only scheme covering just 1000 of the estimated 60,000 institutional child sexual abuse survivors.
Mr Clark said he and his partner had received a total of about $160k in compensation from the church over the years but that it had barely covered medical expenses.
"You get raped and bashed and have your life turned upside then get trickled through money that covers your accommodation while travelling interstate for surgeries and other things just to keep you alive," he said.
"In the US the average law suit was one million dollars paid to victims.
"I am just one of many people whose lives have been trashed by churches and other organisations who hid paedophiles and protected them."