CAROL Stingel feels cheated by the legal system which allowed a $20,000 damages award for her to go unpaid because bankruptcy allowed Aboriginal figurehead Geoff Clark to avoid the bill.
The Queensland woman won a long battle against Mr Clark with a 2007 County Court jury verdict in the Civil Court which linked him to her sexual assault in Warrnambool in 1971.
Ms Stingel had sued Mr Clark for damages over delayed onset of a post-traumatic stress disorder she says was brought on by two pack rapes, which she accused him of being the leader.
Although he has consistently denied involvement and there have been no criminal charges against him, the civil court jury made its decision on the balance of probabilities — a less stringent test than for criminal cases, in which juries must reach a verdict beyond reasonable doubt.
Mr Clark lost a subsequent appeal and was declared bankrupt in 2009 which meant officially he did not have financial capacity to pay the $20,000 compensatory damages to Ms Stingel and her legal fees.
According to Victorian law after bankruptcy a bankrupt is released from most “provable” debts.
He revealed last week the bankruptcy period expired several weeks ago.
“It’s all finished now,” he told The Standard. “I’ve got my passport back and can now stand for elections.”
When asked if he would now pay the compensation, Mr Clark said that debt was extinguished by the bankruptcy process.
That sentiment angered Ms Stingel who told The Standard she believed he still morally owed her payment.
“It’s his way of getting away with it,” she said.
“I’m very annoyed.
“While by law he doesn’t have to pay up because he was a bankrupt, morally he owes me and the onus is on him.
“That $20,000 has compound interest now and legal fees were hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“There’s really no justice — I can’t understand it.”
Ms Stingel urged victims of abuse to go to police and appropriate counsellors soon after the event rather than waiting decades like she did to go to court.
“I spent nearly 10 years in the court system and was finally able to get a huge weight off my shoulders — a freedom that people who have never been abused could not understand,” she said.
“It’s something I had to do and something I’ve now put in the past.
“The system makes you feel it’s your fault and shame is a heavy burden to carry for years and years.”
Ms Stingel said she felt emotional empathy for victims of institutional abuse and victims of entertainer Rolf Harris.
“I jumped for joy that day when they declared Harris guilty and yelled ‘they got him, they got him’,” she said.
“To sit in court and be listened to is the best thing that could happen for victims to find release and freedom.
“I have a lot of respect for women who have the guts to tell their stories.
“My advice to victims is to seek help and tell their story.
“The police system today is much better than when I was younger when it was much harder for victims to find justice.”