Dilworth sex abuse: Financial compensation for survivors must be independent

Dilworth sex abuse: Financial compensation for survivors must be independent

A group taking class action against Dilworth School for historic sexual abuse by staff says a plan to compensate survivors will not work unless the school takes responsibility for its own role in covering up the abuse.

They also say any redress action should be completely independent from the school – with those who suffered the most serious harm entitled to around $500,000 in financial compensation.

Dilworth announced last week it would make payments to students who had been abused, with more than 100 boys thought to have been victims over a 40-year period.

But the amount of money on offer, and how the compensation will be shared, has not yet been decided.

The private boarding school said it had sought advice from experts on “best practice” on the redress scheme, thought to be unprecedented in New Zealand.

But a group representing Old Boys who have taken a class action to the Human Rights Commission says the scheme should be independent for it to have any meaning.

Dilworth Class Action representative, and sexual abuse survivor, Neil Harding last week told the Herald the school had told its alumni about the scheme without apologising or telling survivors first.

Dilworth sex abuse: Financial compensation for survivors must be independent

Neil Harding, a former Dilworth Schhol student who was abused in 1977 by former teacher and assistant headmaster Ian Wilson. Photo / Michael Craig

In a statement today Harding said the school had committed to confronting the issue openly and honestly.

That would require it to be transparent about its knowledge of the ongoing abuse over the decades, he said.

A redress programme would not work without Dilworth fully disclosing its role in the abuse, and apologising for failing to protect boys in its care.

“The school caused harm and traumatisation and was party to enabling, continuing and suppressing the abuse – if the school had done what it should have long ago, many of these men would not have been abused,” he said.

That meant it was “completely inappropriate” for Dilworth to control or administer any financial redress programme, he said.

Such a programme need to be safe environment for survivors to come forward when they were ready.

“The very school that harboured their abusers, rejected the courageous complaints of vulnerable young boys and allowed their abuse, is not a safe, independent and trusted environment for them.”

The amount of money to be given to survivors has not yet been decided. Harding said no sum could compensate for the lifelong harm the school had caused but it should be a meaningful amount.

He pointed to a recent judgment in Australia where a court ordered compensation of $2.7m to a former Geelong College student over the school’s failure to protect him from sexual abuse suffered over 25 years ago.

“Dilworth’s conduct was more extensive, prolonged and egregious than those circumstances. We would expect that any financial compensation for those who are at the higher end of the range should be in the vicinity of $500,000, having regard to the abuse suffered and the conduct of the school.”

Dilworth had said its proposed scheme would be “survivor focused” – if so, the school needed to properly and genuinely consult with survivors of sexual abuse, Harding said.

The class action was on behalf of all survivors, not just those who had registered.

“The survivors’ voice must be heard and respected. We will not give up.”

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