One night changed Anthony’s life — 15 years later he’s still dealing with the scars

Home Politics One night changed Anthony’s life — 15 years later he’s still dealing with the scars
One night changed Anthony’s life — 15 years later he’s still dealing with the scars

When Anthony Shipley was 16, he spent the night in a cell at a juvenile detention centre in Western Sydney.

Fifteen years later, he’s still trying to grapple with the psychological effects of what happened there.

The father-of-two says a guard at the Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre sexually abused him.

He’s launched a civil abuse claim relating to institutional child sex abuse with the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ).

“I try not to think of it, gives me nightmares, you can see my hands sweat, my heart pumps,” he said.

“Every time you hear keys behind you or in a cell by yourself, and I’m a grown man you shouldn’t be fearful of that stuff.”

Lawyers have accused the NSW government of “deliberately delaying” civil abuse claims of alleged victims of child and sexual abuse.

Law firm Slater and Gordon is representing Mr Shipley, 31, and several other people fighting for compensation.

Women with blonde hair and black t-shirt sitting down
Ciara White claims the department is using delay tactics.(ABC News: Kamin Gock)

Ciara White, who’s in charge of the firm’s abuse practice, claims “delay tactics” being used by the DCJ are “damaging and dangerous” for the mental health of vulnerable people.

“We’ve had situations where they’ve blown out court timetables and not comply with court orders, emails have gone un-responded, phone calls have gone unanswered, the list goes on,” she said.

“We have some clients that have been waiting over 14 months to get their health records in order for us to get them assessed by experts which would allow us then to bring these matters to mediation and ultimately to a close.

“What can you do without health records? If somebody’s been institutionalised their whole life and these health records are held with the government, how are we able to best advise these clients?”

The DCJ refutes the claims, and argues it is a model litigant.

“We are committed to working with victim-survivors and their legal representatives to resolve claims as quickly as possible in a respectful and trauma-informed way,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“On average, claims are settled within 20 months, which is well within the guidelines of 24 months as set in the Guiding Principles.”

Man in long white shirt writing in notebook.
Anthony Shipley says the case is impacting his mental health.(ABC News: Ron Foley)

Mr Shipley launched his civil abuse claim in October last year. His mediation is scheduled to begin in April 2023.

He claims there’s been multiple roadblocks when dealing with the DCJ.

“I know other boys … they were doing the same thing to everybody and in the meantime, we’re just waiting,” Mr Shipley said.

Slater and Gordon said it has more than 40 clients that have been waiting over two years for their matter to be resolved and has more than 270 outstanding requests for health records from the DCJ.

In one case, a 24-year-old man who was allegedly abused as a teenager at Acmena Youth Justice Centre had to wait 20 months for an in-person medical assessment from the DCJ.

In another, a 41-year-old man waited 21 months for his mediation to start after claiming he was sexually and physically abused at Minda Juvenile Justice Centre when he was 16.

Mr Shipley has decided to speak out because he doesn’t want abuse survivors to suffer the same challenges, he’s had with his civil claim.

“For one, I want to get closure for myself and two, I want it to stop happening, if someone comes forward with a story they should listen and get to the bottom of it as soon as they can,” he said.

The ABC understands the DCJ has had a significant increase in civil cases since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse handed down its findings in 2017.

In 2018, the NSW government announced a $127 million funding package to address recommendations from the Royal Commission.

“In addition, the NSW government has invested in extra legal services to respond to claims, including seven additional legal positions which have been funded in the last year,” a DCJ spokesperson said.

“The Department of Communities and Justice acknowledges the ongoing pain and trauma for all victim-survivors of child sexual abuse.”

The state government also has legislation in place to help resolve claims without re-traumatising victims such as the Model Litigant Police and Civil Liability (Child Abuse) Amendment Act.

The latter eliminated limitation periods for child abuse claims and abolished legal technicalities that previously shielded some institutions from lawsuits.

But Ms White said the delays in processing civil abuse claims flew in the face of these legislative reforms.

“The department is overwhelmed with the volume of claims and the state government needs to urgently address these blockages,” she said.

She says the DCJ needs to implement better processes to share records and help child sexual abuse survivors, so they aren’t re-traumatised in the process.

Two hands with tattoos clasped together.
Anthony Shipley says some sexual abuse survivors are no longer scared to tell their stories. (ABC News: Ron Foley)

After his night stay in detention in 2007, Mr Shipley has been in and out of prison over the last decade due to petty crime and drug-related offences. 

He said inmates shared their experiences of being sexually abused in government institutions while he was behind bars.

“There are so many of us like it was taboo to talk about it, but now everyone talks about it, so you realise just how bad it actually is,” he said.

“There’s some people out there who haven’t had the chance to tell their story.”

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