Abuse victim ends years of silence to fight for others
New Zealand Herald
A 73-year-old woman who was abused while in state care as a child has finally broken her silence to seek a better deal for hundreds of others.
Netta Christian, who lives in a retirement complex in Hamilton, won $10,000 compensation in an out of court settlement of her case against the Ministry of Social Development last year.
But she didn't receive a cent of the money because it all went on fees for her lawyer, Sonja Cooper.
Ms Cooper, a Wellington lawyer who represents 400 to 500 former state wards, said the Legal Services Agency had refused to pay legal aid for most new claimants because it thought their cases would fail in court.
Mrs Christian has placed a public notice in today's Herald asking other former state wards who suffered abuse to contact her "with a view to addressing and hopefully changing a system which is still flawed and unsound".
She was six months old when she and her brother were taken away from their brain-damaged mother, and eight months old when they were placed with a foster family in Papatoetoe where she stayed until she married about 20 years later.
Her foster father was "a lovely man", but she later found out that her foster mother was psychotic.
"I was assaulted by my foster mother," Mrs Christian said.
"She thrashed me with a belt that hung behind the bathroom door. She used to whip me with it. I was terrified, I didn't know she was mad."
Mrs Christian wrote to the welfare department asking to be moved to another family, but "they never followed up".
She was abused twice by other people.
"I had a neighbour abuse me for eight months when I was 12. She was having a breakdown," she said. "A family member abused me when I was 14."
The foster mother and Mrs Christian's brother are now dead.
She started seeking compensation only in 2002 when she returned from Australia and saw Ms Cooper's advertisement in a newspaper. She said Ms Cooper was "wonderful", but the case became "a waste of time" because the compensation only paid her legal fees.
"I've dealt with it. I'm moving on with my life," she said.
"But I don't think it's right for heinous crimes to be committed against innocent children and for no one to be held accountable.
"I want to change it for other people. This is my life's work till I die. I want special laws to be introduced for state wards because we slipped through the cracks."
The Legal Service Agency's recent tough line on historic abuse cases was upheld by a High Court decision in December which found that most claimants were barred by limit on legal actions being started more than six years after an action occurred.
Ms Cooper said she was working with Crown lawyers and officials to try to establish new procedures "that will put to one side the legal defences and concentrate on the facts of each client's case and whether the Department of Social Welfare breached its duty of care owed to the clients".