Law Expert Slams use of Mediation in Sex Abuse Cases

Date: 16/09/2002

A mediation expert from the University of Western Sydney says it is 'unethical and highly inappropriate' for churches to use mediation to determine compensation in sexual abuse cases.

"Churches continue to rely on mediation in sexual abuse cases partly because this ensures that cases are kept confidential and out of the public sphere.

"Sexual abuse is a particularly insidious manifestation of power; and power imbalance is widely recognised as a reason for not using mediation. This orthodoxy is even enshrined in statutory rules, and in policies and procedures of many mediation providers," Associate Professor Tom Altobelli from the UWS Law School says.

Mediation is an alternative form of conflict resolution which helps people resolve their disputes without litigation. But the UWS academic questions the lack of best interests guidelines in sex abuse cases.

"How can we be sure that any resolution is in the best interest of the victims when mediation is kept confidential? And how can we be certain that perpetrators are reported to the authorities in order to minimize the risk of re-offending when there is no legal obligation for mediators to do so?

"Mediation procedures in sexual abuse cases should be held accountable to certain minimum public standards like those adopted by the Department of Community Services in child abuse and neglect cases in New South Wales," Associate Professor Altobelli says.

According to Tom Altobelli, victims of sexual abuse have very few legal choices to seek compensation. "In reality the victims of abuse can choose between doing nothing, expensive litigation or adopting an alternative process such as mediation which plays into the hands of the perpetrator because it is private and confidential."

The UWS academic will deliver his speech Mediation in Sexual Abuse Cases: Opportunism, Anathema, or Just Coming of Age? to delegates at the 6th National Mediation Conference which starts tomorrow at the National Convention Centre in Canberra. The conference runs until 20 September and includes a keynote address by new defence chief, General Peter Cosgrove on the role of mediation in global peacekeeping.

For more information about the conference, contact Marilyn Chalkley on phone 02 6260 6500 or mobile 0418 624 304.

For more media information, requests for interviews with Associate Professor Tom Altobelli or copies of his conference speech, please contact

Angela McIntyre
UWS Senior Media Officer
Ph: 02 9678 7424
Mob 0419 244 595