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Van Haren v Van Ryn [2023] NSWSC 776

Trigger warning: This blog contains explicit references to subject matter and material that may be traumatising or upsetting for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and their families. Reader discretion is advised.

This case was heard in the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 5 July 2023, before Chen J.

The Facts

This matter concerned the plaintiff, Edan Van Haren, and the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Maurice Van Ryn between 2010 – 2012 when Edan was just 14-15 years old. 

Decision

The Plaintiff filed in the Supreme Court on 8 February 2022 claiming compensation for injury, loss and damage he had suffered as the result of the Defendant’s historical abuse (trespass, assault and battery).

For clarification, assault is intentionally making another individual fear that they will be subjected to immediate harm and/or offensive conduct. Battery is the immediate harm and/or offensive conduct occurring, itself. For example, if you were to raise your hand to slap someone – this makes them afraid that you will hit them (assault). If you were to then slap them, this would be battery.

The Defendant initially decided to represent himself and filed a Defence in which he admitted to some of the offending conduct. However, he then advised that he was withdrawing his Defence and did not wish to participate in the claim. 

The circumstances of the abuse were as follows:

Edan’s friend from school, known only in the court judgment as “NC”, lived opposite the Defendant and would regularly visit him. 

Between 2010 – 2012, when Edan was at NICK’s house, he would also visit the Defendant. It was during these visits that sexual abuse was initiated. During some of these visits, and then later in isolated instances where he was alone in the Defendant’s car, Edan was sexually abused five times. This included the Defendant touching Edan’s penis, the Defendant giving him oral sex, and subjecting Edan to anal sex. 

In 2016, Edan disclosed to his family that he had been sexually abused and later (in March 2018), he reported this abuse to the police. 

Following his disclosures, the Defendant was prosecuted and convicted. 

His Honour, Chen J accepted Edan’s evidence relating to the sexual abuse, unreservedly. He noted that, despite the fact he delayed disclosing the abuse, he considered that the delay was minimal and that often survivors of child sexual abuse did not disclose it, as they felt ashamed and guilty. He noted that perpetrators of child sexual abuse, such as the Defendant “have many ways, some subtle and some not to subtle, of making their victims keep quiet about what they have suffered”.

He also accepted Edan’s evidence as he had consistently provided the same version of events to his family in 2016 as he did to the Police in 2018, the Defendant had withdrawn his Defence and refused to participate in the hearing, and the Defendant had partially admitted certain incidents of abuse occurring in the related criminal proceedings. 

As a result of suffering this serious sexual abuse as a teenager, Edan claimed that he had developed major depression and PTSD. He had experienced suicidal ideation, self-harming, depression, insomnia, loss of control, anger and aggression, and struggled to interact with others socially or in a professional capacity. He had also been hospitalised in 2019 and 2022 due to mental health issues. 

Heads of Damages

General, Aggravated & Exemplary Damages

Edan claimed for $100,000.00 for aggravated damages, noting that the Defendant had been in a position of power, control and trust as an adult in the neighbourhood and, therefore, had been placed in a special position to abuse him. Aggravated damages are awarded when the harm caused is aggravated by the circumstances in which the harm was caused – in this instance, it is not only sexual abuse but the sexual abuse of a child who had trusted that the Defendant, as NC’s neighbour and as an adult, would not harm him in such a way.

Edan claimed for $100,000.00 for exemplary damages, noting that the Defendant took advantage of him, using his relative position as an adult to control and dominate Edan in a manner designed to cause the maximum amount of harm to Edan with the aim of gratifying himself. 

Exemplary damages are awarded only in instances where the Court wishes to punish the Defendant for his conduct and to deter him from such conduct in the future and/or to make an example of the defendant so as to deter others from committing similar intentional and criminal wrongs. Chen J was satisfied that this head of damages was justified as he considered that the sexual abuse of a child was both “disgraceful and reprehensible”. 

Chen J awarded Edan $500,000.00 in total for general, aggravated and exemplary damages. 

Past Economic Loss

Edan claimed a buffer sum (an estimate) of $150,000.00 for past economic loss. Chen J reviewed his academic history, noting that he had commenced a mechanical engineering degree at university in 2014, but that his studies had been delayed due to his psychiatric injuries. He had not yet completed his degree but expected to by the end of 2024. 

Chen J considered that this was sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Edan had a reduced earning capacity due to his psychiatric injury. As Edan should have completed his degree earlier, Chen J compared the average salary of an engineer to Edan’s actual past earnings and awarded him $286,875.00 (including interest) for past economic loss.

Future Economic Loss

Edan claimed a buffer sum of $500,000.00 for future economic loss. Chen J considered that, noting that Edan was currently taking twice the time he should to complete his university degree due to the aforementioned psychiatric injury, and struggled interacting with others, Edan would likely suffer a reduction in his future earning capacity of 1/3. He therefore assessed Edan’s future economic loss as $506,260.00. 

Future Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Edan claimed $49,216.21 for future out-of-pocket expenses and noted he had been recommended to attend a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Chen J did not consider his claim was as significant as was claimed – but accepted that there was a medical need for Edan to attend future consultations with a treating psychologist and psychiatrist, and to obtain relevant medications to treat his psychiatric injury. He awarded Edan $10,450.00 for this head of damage. 

Chen J made the following orders:

  1. Verdict and judgment for the plaintiff in the sum of $1,416,829.85; and
  2. Order the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s costs of proceedings.

This sum of $1,416,829.85 included the following:

General damages (incl. interest, aggravated and exemplary damages): $526,000.00
Past loss of earning capacity (incl. interest): $286,875.00
Past loss of superannuation (incl. interest): $31,556.25
Future loss of earning capacity: $506,260.00
Future loss of superannuation: $55,688.60
Future out-of-pocket expenses: $10,450.00

If you would like to speak to a solicitor for advice regarding child sexual abuse, please contact our office at (02) 4050 0330 for an obligation-free consultation, or book an appointment online.

If reading this blog has upset you, or caused you emotional distress, and you would like some support and counselling, we encourage you to reach out to one of the leading support services listed below.

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ 1300 224 636

MensLine Australia https://mensline.org.au/ 1300 789 978

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/ 13 11 14

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