Sally was sexually abused from the age of 3. The New South Wales authorities did not protect her

Sally was sexually abused from the age of 3. The New South Wales authorities did not protect her

Warning: This story contains serious details of child abuse.

Sally* was three years old when the Department of Community Services (DoCS) was informed that she had been sexually abused, resulting in vaginal trauma.

The report was examined by a case officer.

The result of the report: “Confirmed, forwarded, closed.”

This was just one of 56 reports of “risk of significant harm” received by the DoCS from her childhood until she was removed from her parents’ home at age 13.

During this time, according to other reports, she was repeatedly the victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence, as well as inadequate accommodation and poor nutrition.

“I had a terrible life as a child. I was repeatedly subjected to sexual assault and physical, psychological and emotional neglect,” Sally told 7.30.

Woman with bright pink and purple hair sitting on a chair. She has tattoos on her arms and is wearing a leopard print top.

Sally has spent most of her adult life fighting for justice.(ABC News: Emily Jane Smith)

“I was often left unsupervised and at the mercy of violent men who were supposed to be trusted adults, who took advantage of my vulnerability and repeatedly sexually abused me.”

7.30 has chosen not to use Sally’s real name to protect the privacy of others.

She says these incidents occurred when her mother was in the care of several men who were not biological relatives.

“It’s heartbreaking, I’ve lost quite a lot,” she said.

“People were warned and did nothing. I hope something like this never happens to another little girl again.”

In 2022, she sued the state of New South Wales for negligence. The case was settled in late 2023.

Since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its report in 2017, there has been a significant increase in survivors coming forward and fighting for compensation.

7.30 can show a 940 per cent increase in the number of child abuse cases heard in the Supreme Court of New South Wales against the State Government over the last five years.

In 2019 there were 73 cases, but last year that number rose to 687.

Sally’s case was one of those cases.

Her legal team argued that the state had failed to respond despite repeated warnings and had not taken adequate precautions to protect her.

“It was important to me to fight because what happened to me in my childhood could have been prevented,” she said.

Her lawyer, Julie Baqleh, says reports about her welfare date back to when Sally was a baby.

Woman wearing printed top and black blazer sitting at a desk.

Julie Baqleh specializes in compensation for victims of child sexual abuse.(ABC News: Craig Hansen)

“That was, frankly, the sad thing about my client’s case,” Ms Baqleh told 7.30.

“The authorities have done their job and reported to the department over several years that this particular child was in danger, and the department has done nothing.

“The ministry and the government were warned … and yet did nothing about it.”

Tens of thousands of children neglected

This problem of inaction by the current Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) was highlighted in a damning report by the Auditor General last month.

112,592 children were suspected of being at significant risk in 2022-2023, but the majority (three quarters) of these children did not receive a home safety assessment.

“Their cases were closed without further action by the DCJ and the DCJ does not know the consequences for these children,” the report said.

“About 71,000 children had their cases closed because social workers were not available to evaluate them at home.”

“NSW’s child protection system is inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable.”

Kate Washington, New South Wales’s Minister for Families and Communities, said the audit’s findings were “not remotely acceptable”.


Woman with short brown hair and red top resting her elbow on a table.

Kate Washington, New South Wales Minister for Families and Communities, says the status quo is unacceptable.(ABC News: Emily Jane Smith )

Current agency data shows there is a 10 percent vacancy rate for social workers, but the Public Service Association believes that number is higher when accounting for staff on stress leave or workers’ compensation.

“We hire about 500 new social workers every year, but we cannot retain them. This is a sign that the system is not able to support them in their work. This must be part of our reform,” Washington said.

Ms Washington has been a minister since the Labour Party came to power in March 2023 and is negotiating with the union over the pay and working conditions of social workers.

In her view, this is not the only problem for social workers and obstacles within the system make it difficult for them to stay in their jobs.

Ms Washington also acknowledges that the current status quo is “unacceptable”.

“I don’t think anyone would expect us to solve the problem in 12 months, but we are doing everything we can to put systems in place to keep children safe in our state,” she said.

“If a child cannot be cared for by a social worker, they are often referred to another agency that supports the family or the child. What we are seeing in the system at the moment is that this is not being recorded and this is something that the Audit Office has pointed out.

“We are starting to collect this data to understand whether the child received support and what happened then, but so far there has been no follow-up.”

A review of out-of-home care systems is currently underway and is expected to be completed by the end of October.

To improve the system, department staff are reviewing all reports prepared over the past decade, including the Auditor General’s report.

A long road to justice

The New South Wales government passed a law in 2016 that removed the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. According to Ms Baqleh, this has led to an increase in cases.

Colorful Lego bricks and a pink pony toy lie on the carpet.

Sally hopes that by telling her story, fewer children will have to suffer.(ABC News: Craig Hansen)

“Since most states, including New South Wales, have changed the statute of limitations legislation, there has been an increase in these cases, which is a good thing for victims of abuse,” Ms Baqleh told 7.30am.

However, lawyers also report that there have been numerous delays in government authorities processing requested client documents.

“It is definitely a resource problem… We used to be able to get the documents within three months, now we wait 12 months and in some cases even 18 months,” Ms Baqleh said.

“It’s really ridiculous.”

In 2022, Slater and Gordon accused the New South Wales government of using delaying tactics to deliberately hold up civil claims for abuse.

The firm has now joined forces with eight other competing law firms to form a working group that meets monthly to lobby the government for faster response times and more effective mediation.

  • Carroll & O’Dea Attorneys at Law
  • Ellis Law Firm
  • Lawyers in Kelso
  • Lawyers Koffels
  • Maurice Blackburn Attorneys at Law
  • Shine Lawyers
  • Slater & Gordon Attorneys at Law
  • Trilby Misso Attorneys at Law
  • Turner Freeman Attorneys at Law

In a statement, the group called on the government to “implement urgently needed changes in the way in which complaints from victims of abuse are handled by state authorities.”

Ms Washington acknowledged that the DCJ needs to respond more quickly to alleged victims of abuse.

“This team’s resources were cut by the previous administration and we have allocated $3 million to help the team respond to the exponentially increasing demand for its services,” she said.

“There is still a delay and we understand that this delay can make a real difference to people.”

A woman with bright pink and blue hair sits on the floor looking at paperwork.

Sally spent seven years gathering the documents for her case.(ABC News: Craig Hansen)

It took Sally seven years to gather the documents and fight her way through the courtrooms before a settlement was reached.

“The system has failed me and I am allowed to hold on to that grief and pain, but that doesn’t mean it will limit me for the rest of my life,” she said.

“Compensation doesn’t change anything, it’s just money.”

Sally hopes her story will help other survivors come forward and initiate systematic reform within the DCJ.

Sally rides a horse in a field.

Sally, seen here riding a horse, knows that compensation cannot change her past, even as she looks to the future.(ABC News: Emily Jane Smith)

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